The Fear Project is equal parts memoir and research project, and like his first book Saltwater Buddha Yogis writes what he knows by using surfing surfing as a touchstone throughout the narrative. But I was wary with this one as I am always wary of an author’s 2nd memoir. As initial autobiographical works seem necessary journeys in which the reader experiences urgent epiphanies along with the author, secondary efforts often come off as contrived attempts to squeeze more content from one’s ordinary life.
For the most part, the reader does sort of pick up where Yogis left off with his first book Saltwater Buddha, which follows Yogis along a wandering youthful search for meaning in the context of religious studies and surf trips. But as with most human animals, Yogis finds the questioning and searching spirit of youth replaced by the fearful insecurities of adulthood. Fears of commitment, of the future, of responsibility become obsessive. And that’s where the two books separate in both tone and purpose.
Yogis switches back and forth from researcher to storyteller. He exhaustively searches history and science for the roots of our human fears through interviews and references worthy of a college textbook but makes it all accessible not just through simplified explanation but through relevance to extreme sports anecdotes, interviews with some of surfing’s gnarliest humans, and through his own mission to overcome his fears of Northern California’s most infamous cold water behemoth: Mavericks.
What starts as a vexing problem with commitment becomes a committed program to prepare both physically and mentally to face one of surfing’s most feared lineups. Interviews with Darryl “Flea” Virostko, Doc Renneker, and Jeff Clark lend validity and waterman cred while the author’s own honest brushes with great white sharks, giant waves, and (gulp) an encounter with a possible soul mate make for interesting reading, especially when juxtaposed with an in-depth exploration of the science of fear itself.
I received The Fear Project just prior to a plane trip to Europe when I was personally dealing with some strange and unexpected surf-related anxieties myself. Thus the mission to confront and subsequently defeat one’s fears held me rapt; however, even without this personal connection, I found Yogis’ use of supportive scientific research interesting and helpful in understanding the themes rather than pedantic or off-topic. This book would lend itself perfectly to a college psychology course as it intersperses scientific theory and findings with stories and interviews from extreme athletes that illuminate and clarify the concept of fear while threading the author’s own personal journey throughout.
The bottom line: The Fear Project is an engrossing and insightful book that blends memoir, research, interviews, and the author’s honest search for meaning and safety in an unpredictable world of nature and relationships. It’s a solid read that entertains, educates, and at times challenges readers to push themselves just a little harder.
To purchase a copy, go to The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love