I downloaded Susan Casey’s The Wave onto the iPad yesterday after reading a review in the NYT Sunday Book Review. Definitely a decent book and interestingly, a great multimedia experience if read on an iPad (more on that later).
Casey wrote an account of the great white sharks around California’s Farallon Islands, The Devil’s Teeth, but The Wave is a better book, for me at least, in that sharks are lurid enough of a tired topic that I wasn’t particularly enthralled by an account of them (more of the scientists who spend weeks at a time on the forbidding lumps of rock due west of the Golden Gate). The Wave, for the most part, is a good tale of big wave surfing, an act requiring huge skill, massive cojones, and someone to tow the surfer onto the wave with a jetski. It chases, grail-like, the quest for the 100-foot wave, the monster that hasn’t been ridden, butthe far more interesting yet scant part of the book is about the effects of oceanic rogue waves on shipping. Apparently a ship or two is lost every week in general — primarily tired bulk carriers that are pressed into service too long by greedy owners and driven in conditions by delay-conscious captains when sane seamanship says its time to heave to.
I would have preferred far more on the type of maritime disaster tales related by Adlard Coles in his classic Heavy Weather Sailing than descriptions of the machismo surfer culture that doubtlessly will make the book more popular to the masses. To her credit, Casey does spend a great deal of time along South Africa’s Wild Coast, describing the terrible toll the monster waves there make on shipping. And her description of the 1,700 foot mega-tsunami of 1958 in Alaska’s Lituya Bay is enough of a superlative to make all other waves mere pond ripples.
The fun part of reading the book on the iPad was the ability to switch over to YouTube and find the actual video clips of specific surfers surviving specific waves Casey writes about in Tahiti, Maui or Half Moon Bay. The true wonder of the world that I did not know about before reading it, was the description of Cortes Bank, 100 miles west of San Diego where the Pacific abruptly shelves up from thousands of feet to a submerged seamount a scant six feet under the surface. That people cruise out there with the intention of surfing in the great void simply astounds me, and as a terrified sailor, the notion of cruising along and seeing a 120-foot comber breaking in the middle of the empty sea would cause me to void into my underwear.
Good book, read it with YouTube nearby, put up with the constant Laird Hamilton surfing stories, suffer through the scientists opining drearily about the end of the world, global warming, and the coming days of chaos, and you will be entertained.