Friday, November 19, 2010

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rouges, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey — 352 pgs


Book CoverSusan Casey is on the hunt for the elusive and destructive giant wave. These massive and calamitous giants are a seafarer's most unpredictable enemy and have been responsible for untold devastation and ruin through the ages. Rumors of these giant waves have abounded for centuries, but because the equipment with which to measure them has only been in existence for a short time, these tales have remained just rumors. As Casey explores the possibility of giant waves, she immerses herself into the tow surfing culture, a group of extreme surfing daredevils led by Laird Hamilton, who use jet skis to launch themselves into the paths of 80 foot waves, and travel hundreds of miles to find the elusive hundred-footer they long to ride. Casey also seeks out scientists and wave specialists to educate herself and her readers on the phenomenon of these monstrous waves and finds what the formation of these rouges says about climate change and undersea plate tectonics. Shifting perspectives between the hair-raising exploits of the tow surfers and the more sedate offices of some of the foremost wave researchers, Casey sheds light on a little known and frightening phenomenon lurking in the troubled ocean.

I have a very strange relationship with non-fiction. Though I'm usually very choosy when it comes to non-fiction reads, I've lately begun to branch out due to my success with the genre and find that I'm really receptive to non-fiction as a whole. It gives my brain a little more to chew on, and though I am not an expert in retaining the facts these books present, I find that non-fiction gives me a lot of information about previously untried subjects. All that being said, there are just some books that I find too dense and scientific to be able to properly enjoy and understand, and though there were sections of this book that I devoured, there were others which I fear went right over my head. I'm certainly no expert on the ocean, or waves for that matter, and though Casey did an amazing job elucidating her subject matter, I had some periods of utter confusion while reading this book.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the focus on the tow surfers. These were serious dudes who respected the ocean and its massive waves but were not afraid to put their lives on the line to catch the perfect monster curl. I had a lot of respect for Hamilton and his crew and was holding my breath each time they paddled out and got on their boards. There was a lot of carnage in these sections and Casey had a way of making these recollections seem breathtaking and sometimes surreal. It seems crazy to me that these men were willing to take these kinds of risks, but Casey and the surfers explain it in a way that is completely understandable, and as a reader, I could accept that though the risks were great, the thrill of the ride and the hunt for the perfect wave could be life-altering for the surfers.

When the book got into the realm of explaining the science behind rouge waves, I began to feel a little lost. There was a lot here to digest and some of it went beyond a lay person's capacity for understanding. I did get a majority of the reasoning and science, but at times I tuned out a little and became frustrated by the heavy extrapolating. Casey explains how these unpredictable waves have caused massive devastation in the form of tsunamis and how even big oil corporations can be taken unaware and adversely affected. It seems a lot of the early wave science was trial and error, and I gathered that there is no real way for anyone to know exactly when a giant wave could come rolling in. Estimations and plotting can be done, but the prediction of giant waves is not an accurate science as of yet. When Casey speaks to Al Osborne, he does a great job explaining just how a rouge wave forms and acts, and it was in this easy and common description that I began to appreciate the nuances of waves and the terrible power they wield.

Not only does Casey talk with the tow surfers and the scientists, she also speaks with people who have been a witness to the giant waves and finds out just what living through one of these events is like. It sounds truly terrifying and I found it amazing that there are people who have not only seen a giant wave, but who have survived it. There was also, apparently, a contest sponsored by a well known surfing company to award a monetary prize to the surfer who successfully rode a hundred-foot wave. This stuck me as insanity, and because of this, many surfers were seriously injured. The Laird Hamilton faction most intelligently frowned upon this contest, but it didn't stop some surfers from trying to ride a wave they most certainly weren't ready for. These bits of the book were like candy to me, and I couldn't help reading them over and over, trying to gauge the monstrosity that can come from a hundred-foot wave.

Though this book was a little harder for me to digest than most of the non-fiction I've read, I still consider it a great success because I learned so much about rouge waves and the people who've encountered them, either in their work or in their play. While some of the sections that revolved around the science behind the waves was rather intimidating, the exploits of the tow surfers really made me want to stick with the book and continue on the journey. Casey has done something marvelous in this book, and readers who love unpredictable non-fiction will love it. As for me, well, I just want to shake Laird Hamilton's hand.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

13 comments:

TheBookGirl said...

I really enjoyed your review of this book. I had a similar issue with a non-fiction book recently, The Disappearing Spoon - parts of it I loved, but there were occasions where the science just overwhelmed me.
The parts you describe about the surfers sounds engrossing, and there definitely seems like enough to keep me reading, even if I would have to skip over some sections.
Thanks for this review!

Amy said...

Glad you liked this! I agree that some parts went a bit over my head as well, but there was still just so much of interest!

nomadreader (Carrie) said...

Interesting! I think I would have a similar reaction to you with the science elements. I always intend to read more non-fiction, but I am such a novel lover it's hard to break myself away. I'm glad you're finding more enjoyment in the genre!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Gah! I have had this book sitting on my nightstand for a couple of months now and I really really want to read it. I have a very morbid fascination with water and waves, and I hope I will be able to wade through all the technical stuff to get to the heart of it all. There is a really great documentary (title escapes me) about Laird and the wave chasers.

Suko said...

Zibilee, you make this book sound rather fascinating. Living in Southern CA, I am in awe of surfers and the ocean, and think I'd find this book quite interesting and educational.

Marie said...

Wow, great review. Ann Kingman picked this as one her top nonfiction books of the year and from your review I can see why. It sounds so neat.:-) It came out right around the same time as THE TIGER so I didn't pick it up right away but it's definitely going on the list for its paperback release.

bermudaonion said...

This does sound fascinating. There is so much power in the ocean, too bad we can't figure out how to harness it. I'm sure I'd be totally lost in the parts that you felt were over your head.

Literary Feline said...

After reading a good nonfiction book, I always find myself wondering why I don't read more of it. It can be so interesting--and invigorating. I know some people think there's nothing fun about learning, but I find it extremely fun. Like you though, I can't say I retain as much as I would like, but in the moment, I enjoy it.

This book does found fascinating, particularly the personal stories. I think the science aspect might overwhelm me, but it would still be interesting.

Thank you for your informative review!

Jenners said...

I'm a huge fan of non-fiction books (of a certain type) and I'm glad you are exploring the genre more. Done right, you can learn so much AND be entertaied. This sounds like a mix of both (though maybe too much on the science of waves and all that). I, for one, cannot even comprehend a 100-foot wave!

Jenny said...

I've actually found myself more and more interested in non-fiction lately... but I figure a book like this would be too much on one random subject for me. But it does sound like the info about the surfers is fascinating! I love the water, but water is also one of the scariest things because it's so powerful... especially in the form of huge waves!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This sounds really interesting -- I'm always fascinated by the ocean, and although I'm a tad afraid of dark water, and the power of it all, I think it might be sort of cool to read this. Maybe it would help me a bit, you know? Who knows -- I'd probably get really scared, but at the same time find it awe-inspiring!

Vasilly said...

This sounds like a book I would love. When I was younger, I used to read surfing magazines though it was mainly for the pictures!

Erin said...

I've always been really choosy with my nonfiction, as well. I'd like to push myself to read more nonfiction, because I do think I get different things from fiction vs. non. I don't think The Wave would be a good one for me, though, as I'm rather terrified of the ocean in general and, more specifically, gigantic waves!

Post a Comment

 
Blogger Template by Delicious Design Studio