Sunday, April 24, 2011

219 (2011 #24). The Wave

by Susan Casey,
read by Kirsten Potter

The description on the back of the audiobook was misleading.  It gives the impression that the book will give equal weight to the science of big waves and the surfers of big waves, but that was not how it actually worked out in the book. The subtitle, "In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean" IS pretty accurate, though.  Author Susan Casey, now editor in chief of O: The Oprah Magazine, is talking about the surfers, not the waves!

In particular, there's a lot of focus on legendary extreme surfer Laird Hamilton.  It turns out that Casey paid the big wave celebrity to put her "in the middle of his dangerously and logistically complex undertaking,” according to a May 2007 New York Times article.

Casey writes wells and I loved her evocative language, but I got tired of the endless emphasis on and worship of the surfers.

Here's an example of the great imagery in her writing, from page 287, describing area where a jagged lava formation created a dramatic surf break, spray geysering into the air....A wave would sweep beneath the Jet Ski with the silky power of a baseball pitcher's perfect slider; when it connected with these rocks, all of its energy was blasted skyward. Sun glinted through the fifty-foot curtain of water, casting a scrim of tiny diamonds. At the edges, circular rainbows called glories shimmered like haloes.
The lovely writing, and the silky voice of actress Kirsten Potter, the narrator, kept me listening.  I was fascinated by the experiences of the seafarers and of scientists on research ships, as well as by the surfers--at the beginning.  By the end of the book, though, I had to question the sanity of pursuing such a dangerous sport that appears to have little redeeming value. When one considers that climate change and bigger waves mean more storms, floods, destruction, and death, celebrating "the big ones" makes little sense to me.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]


  1. They made a documentary detailing the origins and history of surf culture called Riding Giants back in 2004, that really made me interested in surfing...but I could not understand the value of doing such a dangerous sport.

    I will have to take a look/listen to this one.

  2. Tracy, the type of surfing they do in the book is tow surfing, where a jet ski tows the surfer out far beyond the point where one could paddle the surfboard, so that they can catch these monstrous waves. Just seems pointlessly dangerous to me.