Big Wave Surfers & Even Bigger Waves: Susan Casey Covers Them All in The Wave (Book Review)

A couple months ago Brian got a chance to talk with Susan Casey, author of the (fairly) recently released book The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean, and ask her about the effect that climate change is having and will continue to have on our oceans. The verdict is that the biggest waves in the ocean seem to be becoming bigger and steeper. Intriguing on many levels, so when a copy of the book came across TreeHugger's virtual desk I jumped at the chance to delve deeper.

After a quick three-evening's read, the verdict: Still intrigued, though I learned more about surfer extraordinaire Laird Hamilton and crew than I did about the intersection of climate change and wave science.

Here's the more in-depth version of that verdict: I have to say that stories about tsunamis, rogue waves, and rough sailing in wild seas have held me in rapt attention since a young age. Perhaps being pounded and pants'd as a child in a rough beach break had something to do with it. No matter the origins of my interest, it's been a long, if not omnipresent, one.

Based on what we'd previously written about Casey's work and a flip through the illustration plates in the middle of The Wave--a mix of big wave surfers at Jaws, Mavericks, and other classic big wave spots, container ships getting smashed by 75'+ behemoths, and illustrations of the tsunamis of generations past--I was really hoping to learn everything I wanted to know about how our changing climate was going to increase the number or size of wave-related disasters.

There's some of that in The Wave's 320 pages, though frankly not much new for anyone who's watched any of the shows on rogue waves and tsunamis produced for cable science and history programming. Lituya Bay in Alaska, various rogue waves smashing massive ships, and the possibility of a massive tsunami smashing into the East Coast of North America caused by the collapse of part of one of the Canary Islands are all dutifully covered.

What really forms the bulk of The Wave is the story of Laird Hamilton and other professional big wave surfers, their motivations, methods, successes and failures (often bloody and sometimes fatal)--and their transoceanic jet setting in pursuit of the perfect combination of wind and swell. As an environmental writer I had to stop myself from trying to mentally calculate the carbon emissions of professional surfers as they criss-cross the globe.

It's fascinating reading, but as with the parts on wave science and ocean disasters, if you've got any interest at all in surfing, you've likely already seen video and photos of many of the events and locations Casey describes--from Hamilton at Teahupoo, a cast of hundreds at Jaws, Mavericks, Todos Santos and elsewhere.

You do get more personal insight from Hamilton and others via Casey--it's obvious that everyone genuinely opened up to her, to a degree you don't always find--but if you're either an avid surfer or lover of waves without standing sideways on them, you're likely to be skimming through many sections.

What's more, from a craft perspective, at times Casey's description of events is overwrought, making melodramatic the interaction of humans and waves, when simpler language would be more than sufficient in such inherently dramatic instances.

That said, The Wave is an enjoyable read for content alone (even if at times familiar for some), a novel combining of characters single-minded in both their pursuit of sport and science.

Since the book's been out for a while, all the usual book supplying suspects should be able to supply you.

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More on Oceans:
Extreme Waves Are Getting Bigger & Causing More Damage
Climate Change is Making Waves Bigger & Steeper (Video)
Ocean Saltiness Provides Early Warning System for Climate Change
Climate Change Causing Ocean Dead Zones to Grow

Tags: Book Reviews | Global Climate Change | Oceans