Skip to main content

Dangerous Fun

The Social Lives of Big Wave Surfers

Dangerous Fun

The Social Lives of Big Wave Surfers

A thrilling ethnography of big wave surfing in Hawaii that explores the sociology of fun. 

Straight from the beaches of Hawaii comes an exciting new ethnography of a community of big-wave surfers. Oahu’s Waimea Bay attracts the world’s best big wave surfers—men and women who come to test their physical strength, courage, style, knowledge of the water, and love of the ocean. Sociologist Ugo Corte sees their fun as the outcome of social interaction within a community. Both as participant and observer, he examines how mentors, novices, and peers interact to create episodes of collective fun in a dangerous setting; how they push one another’s limits, nourish a lifestyle, advance the sport and, in some cases, make a living based on their passion for the sport. 
In Dangerous Fun, Corte traces how surfers earn and maintain a reputation within the field, and how, as innovations are introduced, and as they progress, establish themselves and age, they modify their strategies for maximizing performance and limiting chances of failure. 
Corte argues that fun is a social phenomenon, a pathway to solidarity rooted in the delight in actualizing the self within a social world. It is a form of group cohesion achieved through shared participation in risky interactions with uncertain outcomes.  Ultimately, Corte provides an understanding of collective effervescence, emotional energy, and the interaction rituals leading to fateful moments—moments of decision that, once made, transform one’s self-concept irrevocably.   

272 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Sociology: Social Psychology--Small Groups, Sociology of Arts--Leisure, Sports

Sport and Recreation


"Its theoretical merits in the ritual interactionist paradigm . . . make the book a must read for any sociologist interested in explaining the seductions of risk taking and the fun in danger—in leisure worlds, individual pleasures, and social life."

Symbolic Interaction

“Deftly explains big wave surfing’s embodied practices, interpersonal relationships, and status hierarchies. The end result is a highly persuasive treatise on the role of emotions, risk-taking, and social collaboration in the pursuit of fun—an essential (if academically undervalued) aspect of human existence. And, beyond his serious engagement with sociological theory. . . . [T]he text is equally filled with humor and beauty. . . . Corte’s analysis represents a significant step in better understanding the complexities of what fun is and how people can find it in myriad ways.”

Social Forces

“Ugo Corte presents an outstanding ethnographic account of big wave surfing. Not only because of the quality of the research but also because of the literary quality of the whole piece. The book achieves an excellent balance between scholar discussion and adventure chronicle that would appeal both to academics and surf aficionados. . . . I would consider Corte’s book as one of the best ethnographic studies of sport so far."

Sociología del Deporte

"Dangerous Fun is bound to be recognized as an essential contribution to the ethnography of risk and the sociology of emotions. Part-memoir, part-history, and part-theory, Corte brilliantly describes why men and women in the Hawaiian surfing world are willing to put themselves in jeopardy in search of a high that is simultaneously personal and communal. Not since Matthew Desmond’s On the Fireline have we had such a powerful account of the intersection of pleasure and danger. One need not have straddled a surfboard to appreciate that a commitment to sociality allows for the profound attraction of controlled peril."

Gary Alan Fine, Northwestern University

“Dangerous Fun is a landmark in the sociology of sport, showing how fear is converted into excitement and fun. Big wave surfing is a team sport: waiting for the wave far off-shore, calling alarms of dangerous waves, circulating narratives of near-death disasters that are the turning point to dropping out or becoming a big-wave surfer.  One has to seek out high danger in the presence of a like-minded group to get hooked on this kind of emotional/ physiological transformation. Corte’s book is a fundamental theory of risk-taking of all kinds, even addiction.”

Randall Collins, author of Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory

"The North Shore of O‘ahu is the Vatican of surfing: small in area but densely packed with lore, power, secrets, and great waves. Ugo Corte goes straight to the heart of one of its abiding mysteries–the subculture within the subculture–the exceptional people who ride very big waves. He illuminates surfers’ mentality, diversity, self-expression, social bonds and rituals with dramatic narrative and extensive interviews."

William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days

Table of Contents

Prologue: From Northern Europe to the North Shore of Oahu
1 From Land to Water
2 Beyond the Boil
3 Fun and Community
4 Failing to Succeed, Failing to Become
5 Reciprocal Influence
6 From Adventure to Entertainment and toward Sport
7 One Last Ride
Epilogue: Gone but Here, yet Barely in Sight

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press