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The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean
From Susan Casey, bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal, ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out.
For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea—including several that approached 100 feet.
As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of people as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100-foot wave.
In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.
Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.
||September 14, 2010|
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190 of 208 found the following review helpful:
The Discovery Channel meets ESPNSep 03, 2010
By Jonathan Sabin
Susan Casey's THE WAVE features an introduction that would be right at home in a Tom Clancy thriller. Following the headline "57.5 (deg) N, 12.7 (deg) W, 175 MILES OFF THE COAST OF SCOTLAND... FEBRUARY 8, 2000," she launches into sixteen pages of prose describing a handful of shipping disasters.
Have you ever been on an ocean liner where half the passengers were turning green with nausea as the ship pitched and rolled in 25-foot swells? That's nothing. Dead calm by comparison.
Monster waves, the height of a ten-story office building (and taller) have taken ships --big, huge ships-- and pounded, pummeled, and overturned them, split them in half and buried them forever along with everyone aboard under thousands of tons of water, and it happens with a frequency that you can't begin to imagine.
I read those first pages, and by the time I got to Chapter one, I was electrified. This was going to be a page-turner of the first order.
Only it wasn't. As it turns out, Casey's THE WAVE is about 1/3 "The Discovery Channel" and 2/3rds "ESPN's Gnarliest, Awesomest, Surfin' of the Century."
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I have anything against people who surf. In fact, there was a fair amount of the surfing story that I found simply fascinating (and until reading this book, I knew NOTHING about.)
Case in point: Cortes Bank. This is an area in the Pacific Ocean about 115 miles off the coast of San Diego. As it happens, there is a submerged, underwater chain of islands there, and when the large Pacific swells --beefed up by storm fronts-- hit the shallow water... well, surf's up, dude, in a majorly-tasty way.
Casey's description of her six-hour trip out to this isolated area in a rather small boat with a band of some of the best surfers on the planet looking to ride 100-foot waves was astounding. I had no clue that surfing was anything but a near-the-shore sport.
But my issue with the book --and the reason I've given it just three stars-- is the amount of ink she devotes to the surfers, their injuries, their families, their gear, their homes, the award ceremonies... well, you get the picture.
The sections of the book that I was expecting --where she writes about the science of the waves, both what we understand, and that which remains (at this point) well beyond our ability to figure out, are very well written. I really like her writing style, and enjoyed her 2006 book about the Farallon Islands, "The Devil's Teeth" a little bit more than THE WAVE, if only because the subject was a touch more 'focused'.
- Jonathan Sabin
150 of 181 found the following review helpful:
Well written ultra press release for The Laird...Ultimate Wave Guy (TM)Sep 05, 2010
By K. Swanson
First things first. The Wave was fun to read because Casey is a very solid writer. She knows how to put a sentence, paragraph, and tale together. Technically, her writing is near impeccable; it's a pleasure to read a galley proof and see almost no errors, compared to so many authors who apparently can't write ten words without needing spellcheck and an editor. So from that standpoint, this was one of the best advance copies I've seen of anything over the past few years.
I haven't read Casey's other book, about sharks, nor have I read her as editor of Oprah's O Magazine (I have trouble picking up a publication that has its owner on the cover every issue, who also named it after herself). After reading The Wave, I might just check out Casey's other writing, as she understands what good scribbling is all about. She always keeps things moving, rarely bogging down in arcane detail even when discussing the science of climatology, waves, etc, and has a fine eye for the telling fact. Perhaps too fine, but we'll get to that in a minute. What's best about The Wave is the overall scope; Casey links how the earth's weather is changing to how waves are growing, and there's no denying the stats: there is a clear correlation. She visits various scientists and marine salvage folks and shares their stories; they all agree that we're seeing the oceans get nuttier, and it's only just beginning.
Enter our hero! Laird "Larry" Hamilton, big wave rider extraordinaire. In this book he comes off as very humble, very brave, and very wise. You root for him at every turn on every wave and it's clear that Casey has quite a rapport with the guy. She always seems to be at his house, near the infamous Jaws/Pe'ahi, a Maui big wave break, chatting with Larry and Curly and Moe. Just kidding. These guys are no stooges; they've almost perfected the art of tow-in surfing, which is the only way to catch a 50 footer or above---paddling in is too slow. But towing is still very controversial to many, and Casey pretty much skips that argument altogether, a telling omission.
We're taken to some of the world's best big breaks, like Todos and Cortes and even Jaws' big sister Egypt, which never breaks unless it's almost 100 feet high and provides the highlight of the book, a wild day where Laird and his tow partner almost get killed, and when they realize maybe it's not worth dying to catch the biggest waves. (The fact that Laird went out again at 80-foot Egypt that same session certainly dispels any doubts; this guy definitely does live for the really hairy waves.) That chapter, and the scene where Laird takes Casey on a jet ski down the face of Jaws, offer some visceral thrills for the reader, and are part of why this book is fun. Even if its title should really be The Wave: Kingdom Of Laird.
Which brings me to some thoughts we're unlikely to hear much about when this book hits the stands. [If you're not a surfer or are just curious if The Wave is good, no need to go further. Enjoy the book, it's a fine read.]
As a surfer, though sadly landlocked, I've followed Hamilton's exploits on occasion since I first read about him in the '90s. When his infamous Teahupoo monster wave was on the cover of Surfer mag in 2000, I remember standing at my mailbox in true awe at the insanely malevolent lip above his head. That thing could easily vaporize anybody. From that point on Laird became the Ultimate Big Wave Surfer, TM, and suddenly he was everywhere. But here's what's most interesting about LH: he disdains surf contests, for many good reasons, and is seen as the Pure Surfer. Seeking the biggest, baddest, bestest waves on the planet, he has jettisoned the crass commercialism of the surf world to live on his own ethereal plane of Ultimate Waveness.
Except for those American Express commercials. And that Oxbow stuff. And his own brand of products. And...well, you know, a guy's got to make a living, right? Fair enough. But here's the problem: so do other guys. There's a scene in The Wave where Laird, with his faithful reporter tagging along, gives some grief to Sean Collins, who started the website Surfline, whereby anybody can see where the best waves will be on the planet. Laird feels that's cheating, and not everybody should get that knowledge. Just like many feel that tow-in surfing---which Laird, Buzzy Kerbox and Darrick Doerner pioneered in the '90s---is completely wrong, with its gas fumes and noise and pollution of Mother Ocean, and its disrespect towards paddle-in surfers.
But you see, when Laird does it, it's pure. Sorry, Pure TM. Just as Surfline isn't pure. And contests aren't. And maybe they're not, fair enough. But you know what? It's time Hamilton realized that while he may be a better surfer than the rest, and thus deserving of more respect out there, he's not the only surfer, and other riders want and maybe even deserve the big waves too. And the magazine covers. And the videos. And the movies. And the American Express commercials.
And the book written by Oprah's go-to writer gal, which when you really look at it is a long, very well-done puff piece on Laird Hamilton, posing as a scientific inquiry into the world of waves. Which it also is...but it always seems to come back to Laird. So why not call this book Laird: The Super Mega Master (And His Big Waves, Etc)? Well, that would be so crass. And maybe a little too transparent.
Hey, it fooled me. One of the reasons I picked this up was Laird, but I also wanted to hear what the real wave experts think. And they confirm what many of us were talking about 20 years ago: the waves are getting bigger due to climate change, and there'll be some awesome tubes the size of houses out there, ever bigger. So it's only logical that guys like Laird and Doerner should be stoked, and studied. Wait a minute...who?
Another weird thing about this book is Darrick Doerner's very peripheral status. He's barely mentioned, even though he was Laird's original long-time tow-in partner. Even though he was catching monsters when Larry was a kid (including a 1988 Waimea wave still considered one of the all-time great paddle-in (ie real surfing, non-TM) waves). Even though true waterman Doerner is seen by many in Hawaii as Laird's predecessor and teacher, in many ways. So why is Darrick barely mentioned? Good question. Just like Buzzy; he and Laird had a falling out and now it's all about Kalama and Lickle here. But if this book is really about big waves, Doerner merits far more time and respect.
And where is Eddie Aikau?! Come on. He deserves at least a paragraph, if not a chapter. Same with Jeff Clark, who surfed the insanely hairy Maverick's alone for 15 years, probably the greatest big wave feat that ever will be. You'd think that Casey, whose comfort in and respect for the water adds much credence to her writing here, would give those guys the space they very definitely earned.
Finishing The Wave, I decided to check out Laird's website, which I've never done. And guess what? It was only there and in linked articles that I found many fascinating facts skipped over in The Wave. Like, Casey lived with the Hamiltons on Maui for five years (never once mentioned in the book...why? Seems germane. Maybe too much so?). Like, Laird's site sells a bumpersticker, Blame Laird, a weirdly ironic theft of a sticker popular on many cars at many breaks now. He's being blamed for costing plenty of surfers endless waves by popularizing the stand-up paddleboard, wherein you stand on the board way outside the break and get ALL the best waves. It used to be the old longboarders way outside who peeved folks inside...now they too are mad at the stand-ups. So it goes.
So Blame Laird. But also make sure to check out Laird's new line of....you guessed it, stand up paddleboards! Yes, the ads are all over his website, but Casey never mentions in the book that LH has this product on sale, but she does talk about him stand-up surfing and plugs it as a genuine Hawaiian thang, and ain't it cool, etc. Hmmm. Perhaps Casey is head of O due to a very skillful way with product placement along with her literary skills?
And Laird's website's front page now has various articles about...this book! It wasn't until I read those articles that I saw very clearly that The Wave was practically commissioned by Laird, or perhaps his wife Gabby. Her own line of products is on his site as well, and she just wrote a gushing piece on she and Laird hobnobbing with the rich in the Hamptons while promoting...The Wave! Wait, are we still talking about Laird Hamilton, hater of surf contests and all that is phony in the surf world? Can't be.
But it gets better, or worse, or something. Laird is also now sponsored by, try not to laugh...Chanel! Yes, the perfume folks, now hawking watches. Clearly from Gabby's starstruck article ("Laird sat next to super famous artist/New York scenester Julian Schabel at dinner!"), she is all about leveraging the Hamilton brand, and Laird is being dragged along.
Or rather, towed, into the modern world's Greatest Wave of all: Selling Yourself.
The pictures of Laird at that party for this book show him almost cringing , and who can blame him? This whole PR exercise can't be his doing (one hopes, but one wonders...). One also hopes that he soon pulls out of this ever-bigger monster wave, with a thousand logos across its face and all sorts of bumpy shelves on the way down to the trough of Eternal Product Placement, where there is naught but a crashing, crushing lip; that's one wave you can't bail on once you're in its brutally gnarly closeout barrel, bruddah.
Sure, LH has to make cash for his family (always the ultimate excuse for selling anything), but he can't simultaneously hate on Sean Collins, other tow-in surfers, and the surf world in general for following his lead. Especially when he's making all this money selling himself as Mr. Ultimate Big Wave Surfer in TV commercials and books and movies. Pick one or the other, Laird. You're the purist, or you're the sell-out like everyone else. You can't be both...and you ain't. The Wave and its glitzy parties and no doubt upcoming Oprah tie-ins are no better than any surf contest or gaggle of tow-in noobs at Jaws on that rare huge day every three years...they're just somewhat more subtle. Judge not lest thee be judged. You may have started it, but you can't have it all to yourself while cashing in as well. (Just like you can't preach about the purity of Mother Ocean and then jet ski into waves while spewing gas all over your mother).
So now, along with his t-shirts, movies, bumperstickers, hats, paddleboards, vitamins, watches, credit cards, etc etc etc etc, Laird has a book, The Wave. It's a very well-disguised, well-written, intelligent product placement, and it tricked me up until I went to Laird's website. Kudos to all concerned for the subtlety. But in the end this book The Wave is yet another all too crisp meta-ironic piece of modern culture, a warning of the dangers that modern human life has unleashed on the planet, while also being the kind of well-crafted consumer-culture advertisement that has lead to the selfish earth-trashing behavior that may have caused all these freaks of nature in the first place.
Oh well. It fooled me and I had fun while it lasted. And that's what matters.
29 of 33 found the following review helpful:
A bit of a mess, but some great partsNov 17, 2010
By Aaron C. Brown
This book mixes topics and styles in a way that makes the reader wonder if it is a tapestry of contrasts and relations, or if the author decided to clean out her desk of unsold magazine articles and shuffle them together into a book. The book begins with a Perfect Storm-like account of a oceanographic reserach cruise that makes you think you're going to hear tales of adventurous scientists, like a non-fiction Twister. Next we're in the world of globe-hopping big-wave surfers, like The Endless Summer on steriods.
If you stick to the waves, mixing oceanographers and surfers makes sense. But the author goes much deeper and starts sounding like a romance novelist:
"Though he was almost always smiling, there was a dark intensity to McNamara's presense. His hair was close-cropped and jet-black, his eyes were deeper than brown."
"He was a tallish, jovial Virginian, with a silver brush cut with a neat goatee. When he smiled, which was often, he revealed a set of perfect white teeth."
"Even the greenish fluorescent lighting in his office couldn't dampen his exuberant aura. His brown hair grew lavishly onto his face, happy curlicues of sideburn and mustache and beard."
Women's appearance gets much less attention, the last quote is followed by:
"Across from him sat his colleague, Dr. Christine Gommenginger, in a smart navy blue dress."
Okay, so it's a book about sexy men and the ocean. But then the author gets to science. Unfortunately, she gets it all wrong. She tells us "hurricane strength rises exponentially with wind speed." While "strength" is not a well-defined term and hurricanes are complex, to a basic first approximation hurricane power dissipation rises with the cube of wind speed. With a cubic relation if wind speed doubles, hurricane strength goes up by a factor of 8. If wind speed doubles again, hurricane strength goes up by another factor of 8. If the relation were exponential, the first increase could still be a factor of 8, but the second doubling would increase strength by a factor of 64; another doubling means an increase by a factor of 4,096. The problem is the author likes to throw words around that sound scientific, without knowing their meanings.
The author uses "knots per hour" as if "knot" is a measure of distance, but "knot" means "nautical miles per hour." In another place she claims "resonance" is "an aspect of non-linearity that is endlessly complex." Not really. It doesn't have much to do with non-linearity and is well-understood by musicians or anyone who taps a crystal glass to get a note. If a wave is sloshing back and forth in a basin, and the wave length is an integer fraction of the basin length, waves in both directions will reinforce each other and get big. The author illustrates it by a child pumping a swing, but that is pumping, not resonance. She then uses it to explain why a wind blowing in the direction of a wave adds energy. Again that's not resonance, the wind is merely adding energy by pushing against the wave.
Or she tells us, "when wave energy moves through a medium--water for instance--the medium itself doesn't actually go anywhere." First of all, not all waves move through media (this has been known for a century). Second, of course the medium moves, who could possibly believe it doesn't? If you stand in ocean water you will see the water level go up and down as waves pass. If you make big enough waves in a bathtub, water will slosh out, how can it do that if it "doesn't actually go anywhere?" Try telling that to your downstairs neighbor.
In transverse waves, the medium moves in a direction perpendicular to wave motion. In a longitudinal wave, the medium moves in a direction parallel to the wave motion. Water waves have both transverse and longitudinal components. If a water wave is moving from west to east, a particle on the surface of the water gets sucked west and up the face of an oncoming wave. As it reaches the top of the wave, it falls down and west. Because the wave is moving as this happens, its eastward motion offsets the westward motion of the particle and it ends up near its starting point for the next wave to pick up and set down (this assumes a steady swell in deep water, a breaking wave is more complicated).
The author frequently trots out questions about climate change that seem to have no relevance to anything else in the book. The style suggests she is trying to make a political point, but what that point is is never clear. Her questions are also not clear, she fails to distinguish between anthropogenic climate change and the simple trend from the recent past, or to define a time scale or even to specify the type of change. "Climate change" just seems to be another phrase she likes to sprinkle in the text without worrying about its meaning. The answers she gets from scientists are useless because her questions are so unclear, and many have a defensive note of an expert tired of debating points with amateurs who have already made up their minds and don't want to understand (or can't understand) even the basics of the science involved.
So why three stars? If you ignore the faux-science and either ignore or enjoy the sensuous description of men, and don't look for any particular point, you will find some exceptional writing about people and places. The author has a lot of talent, and clearly loves male surfers, dramatic stories and roll-up-their-sleeves male scientists. If she would only stick to topics she understands, she could write five-star books.
6 of 6 found the following review helpful:
That's not what he saidDec 09, 2010
I agree whole-heartedly with the reviews critical of the book for being a Laird love fest. It's true and the book really is mostly about big-wave surfers and little about the science and history, which was a big pull for me. And yes, Casey is a fine writer - this is an immensely entertaining and gripping book. I loved hearing the stories, learning the small amount of science, and feeling the awe of the author. But, and this is for the audiobook, oy the narrator! So bad. The problem is that she has no, zero, idea what Laird and his crew sound like. These guys sound nothing like the chill surfer dudes the narrator lazily chose to characterize them as. Every time she related their dialogue I cringed at her generalized dude voice. Laird in particular is a fervent, articulate, well-spoken professional whose respect for the ocean rests easily with his commercialism, something you'd never guess from the narration or Casey. This is a BIG failing for the audiobook. So be it. The book is still a wonderful experience.
14 of 17 found the following review helpful:
Should be called "I love Laird"Dec 09, 2010
It's a well written and easy to read book, with a completely misleading title and presentation. It's more about the author's crush on Hamilton and her experience with the surfers than about the waves, the forces that cause them or meaningful scientific info.
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