Splashing Around With The Wave

Mix together the scientific exploration of wave theory, climate change, maritime disaster, and surfing. Layer it solid story-telling and great prose. Add a dash of big wave surfer Laird Hamilton. On second thought, add a big cupful of Mr. Hamilton. The result is Susan Casey’s The Wave: In the Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.

For centuries, mariners have told tales of gargantuan waves. Until recently scientists dis­missed these stories as exaggerations. Waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. In February 2000, the British research vessel, Discovery was trapped in maelstrom and battered by mammoth waves in the North Sea. They managed to survive and came back with scientific proof that 100+ foot waves are out there.

Unfortunately, most sailors who encounter these beasts are in no position to measure them accurately and their boats are unlikely to survive them.

As scientists try to understand them, big wave surfers are trying to ride the ones that make it to shore. The focus of the book is the tribe of surfers looking for big perfect waves. As the waves get that big, its not just about riding the waves, but surviving their incredible power. Laird Hamilton is the star of this crew and the surfing stories revolve around him.

The world’s oceans absorb the vast majority of the heat added to the climate system. After all, oceans cover most of the Earth’s surface. More heat, means more energy and bigger waves. The hundred-year wave height in the Pacific Northwest measured 33 feet in 1996. Now, it’s 46 feet; maybe even higher.

Ms. Casey paints an interesting juxtaposition between the mariners looking to weather reports to avoid big waves and the surfers looking to find the waves. Scientists try to understand the intricate complexities of wave systems and the surfers who can feel them. In the end, playing in the waves sounds a lot more fun than leaning over a laptop trying to understand them.

The publisher was nice enough to send me a preview a copy. If you have an interest in oceans, waves, or surfing, The Wave would be a great book for you to read.

The Wave comes ashore and goes on sale September 14.