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Local author pens surfing detective novel set in Encinitas

ENCINITAS — Michael Conway, 62, said he’s wanted to write a novel since his mother signed him up for a creative writing class in the fourth grade. But it’s probably a good thing he waited until later in life to start.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book, but it’s one of those things you just never find the time to do,” Conway said. “It’s good in a way, I could draw from a lot more experience at my age.”

Conway just released “The Surf Detective,” his first novel. The self-published book is a globetrotting whodunit that features what Conway calls every surfer’s dream: “an all-expense-paid trip to Bali and Hawaii.” With quite a bit of surf travel under his belt, including to spots in Indonesia and Costa Rica, Conway said he wouldn’t have been able to write about so many exotic locales without having visited them.

Encinitas resident Michael Conway holding drafts and the finished copy of “The Surf Detective,” a self-published novel that partly takes place in Encinitas. Photo by Jared Whitlock

“I think a lot of the best material comes from real life,” Conway said. “I wanted to try and condense my surfing experiences into a book.”

If there’s anything Conway knows, it’s Encinitas, where he lives and where a good chunk of the book takes place. Residents will recognize the town and the surf spots in Conway’s prose.

One passage, for example, describes the feeling of driving north on Coast Highway 101, leaving Solana Beach and seeing Cardiff Reef in the distance. Though much of the book is a love letter to surfing, Conway said he wanted to present a more honest description of the sport, a contrast to what Conway sees as Hollywood’s take on surfing.

“I’m not trying to portray Encinitas as a mystical beach town,” Conway. “I wanted to avoid the cheesy things Hollywood does — surfers that start off every sentence with ‘dude.’”

“I’m trying to write what I know,” Conway added.

Like the main character, Conway is a longtime Encinitas local who’s a general contractor by trade and enjoys surfing. They also share the same personality and background. But, as Conway pointed out, he’s never had to “track down a missing pro surfer that’s part of a religious cult’s plans,” the book’s main plotline. And while not as dramatic as a cult, Conway too has had to grapple with forces bigger than him. First and foremost, the economy.

When the economy slowed three years ago, so did the construction and real estate industries, along with Conway’s work as a general contractor. With more time on his hands, he “just started writing one day,” guided by only one notion: Conway wanted the book to be a mystery that would appeal to surfers and non-surfers alike. Characters, plot and setting materialized as he went.

“It all just kind of came out,” Conway said. “It appeared from different compartments of my brain I’m not aware of.”

He finished the first handwritten draft within three months. From there, Conway’s daughter edited the draft, as well as subsequent ones.

“She was tough on me,” Conway said with a laugh.

Several years and half-a-dozen drafts later, Conway finished. And with his first book under his belt, Conway said he already has another in mind, a novel that that will cover the history of his favorite Costa Rican surf spot.

“I have the writing bug and more confidence to boot,” Conway said.

For now, readers can check out “The Surf Detective,” which can be purchased at or