jeremy's Reviews > The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

The Wave by Susan Casey
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's review
Oct 27, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: nature
Read in October, 2010

it has long been asserted that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do the vast seascapes that cover some seventy percent of our planet. susan casey's seductive new book, the wave: in pursuit of the rogues, freaks, and giants of the ocean, goes a long way to support this claim. as casey, award-winning journalist and editor-in-chief of o magazine, traverses the globe in search of the world's mightiest waves, we are introduced to a fascinating cast of characters, including some of the most renowned big-wave surfers, as well as scientists on the forefront of these little-understood phenomena.

although sailors and seafarers have claimed encounters with giant hundred-foot waves for centuries, they have often been rejected as tall tales and exaggerations. it turns out, however, that not only are such waves more common than anyone could have ever imagined, they are also occurring with increasing frequency.

much of the wave centers upon the famed exploits of big-wave surfer laird hamilton, with casey following him around the world in his pursuit of ever more legendary waves (his home turf is the exalted jaws break, pe'ahi, off the coast of maui). throughout the book casey strives to portray hamilton and his colleagues as more than mere thrill-seekers, and succeeds in depicting them as humble, graceful individuals whom happen to be (after decades of conquest) the best at what they do. most of the big-wave surfers casey encounters throughout her travels (especially hamilton, dave kalama, and crew) espouse the glory of surfing for personal (and often spirtual) reward and roundly reject the commercialization of sponsored surf tournaments and the like. while they may be rightly called legends and pioneers in their respective sport, at no point does this fact seem to inflate their egos.

other portions of the wave delve into the historical record, with a particularly unbelievable chapter on the july 1958 megatsunami that struck lituya bay, alaska. following a 7.9 magnitude earthquake and the ensuing avalanche of ice and rock, a mind-boggling 1,720-foot wave devastated the bay and killed two (though it spared a survivor whose first-hand account of the incident is utterly chilling).

the most unsettling parts of the book (if, indeed, anything is scarier than a 170-story wave) deal with climate change and the ever-evolving models of climate science. as the planet warms, ice caps melt, and sea levels rise, most scientists anticipate an increase in oceanic volatility. earthquakes and tsunamis are expected to become more common, and, thus, also their calamitous effects. while some big-wave surfers may be looking forward to larger waves and gnarlier breaks, their predicted effects on low-lying, densely inhabited coastal areas seem rather foreboding.

the wave is far from a comprehensive work on the subject, yet it is an eminently readable and fascinating look into a compelling and perplexing realm. susan casey's book will arouse even the most stifled and landlocked of imaginations. as they have for millennia past, the sea's mysteries shall continue to inspire, tempt, beckon, and enthrall us forevermore.

around us the waves were breaking and tumbling and churning like the restless auguries of some distant storm, but at the same time everything felt peaceful. like the sea, we are always in motion. the waves loom in our dreams and in our nightmares through all of time, their rhythms pulsing through is. they move across a faint horizon, the rush of love and the surge of grief, the respite of peace and then fear again, the heart that beats and then lies still, the rise and fall and rise and fall of all of it, the incoming and outgoing, the infinite procession of life. and the ocean wraps the earth, a reminder. the mysteries come forward in waves.

laird hamilton @ jaws
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