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The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean    by Susan Casey order for
by Susan Casey
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

In this newly issued trade paperback Susan Casey looks at the phenomenon of big waves from the point of view of the men who surf them, the scientists who study them, and the sea captains whose task it is to get their ships safely through them.

These are not just high seas that churn up thirty or forty foot waves. Casey writes about situations where the waves are much higher and occasionally even top 100 feet. When waves of this magnitude show up in the shipping lanes, even the largest tankers and cargo vessels stand little chance of escaping unscathed and, in many instances, the ships and their crews are never heard from again.

As they build in force and race toward a land mass, these waves, usually created by storm surges and wind conditions, are anticipated by a select group of international big wave surfers who tempt the fates as they try to ride the towering giants. No matter where these exceptional waves appear, from Hawaii, Tahiti, and South Africa to the offshore areas of California and Mexico, a small coterie of legendary surfers is there to greet them and accept the challenge for the ride of a lifetime.

Along with sharing her conversations with such well known big wave surfers as Laird Hamilton, Brett Lickle, Dave Kalama, Garrett McNamara and Mike Parsons, the author also paints a vivid picture of some of the places she visited to watch these men tackle the monster waves.

Each area has its own distinct character. 'Jaws was the Grand Empress; it was that entrancing and fierce. True to reputation, Teahupoo was a wood chipper. Mavericks was a trapdoor to the dark side, and Todos Santos was a rollicking weekend in Baja, fun that could turn bad in an instant. Ghost Tree was a jagged chunk of glass, glittery in the sun, but if you handled it the wrong way it would cut you badly. Cortes Bank was a moon landing, exotic and alien, and Egypt, it seemed, was a sphinx on the prowl. They were an all-star cast in nature's great drama ...'

In alternating chapters, Casey visits all the premier big wave spots mentioned above and describes how a core of expert surfers performed. In some cases they did well; in others they encounter disaster, serious injury and even death.

The surfing pieces are balanced by chapters that look at extreme wave science, climate change and how it will affect the creation of big waves, the problem of tsunamis, and the high toll these rogues of the sea have taken on commercial shipping.

Susan Casey covers a lot of ground in this book. Fortunately her conversational narrative style and ability to put the more technical material into understandable laymen's terms make this book a fascinating read. A must read for any serious surfer, The Wave features enough non-surfer material that it will appeal to a much broader audience.

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