In The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, Susan Casey takes the reader on a journey of excitement and awe. She exposes them to monster waves 80 feet in height or larger. These behemoths wreak havoc on shipping, deep-sea oil rigs and coast lines. Yet, surfers gladly risk their bodies and lives trying to ride them.
The Wave looks at the increasing occurrence of giant waves, and their increasing size, their increase in economic damage, and more importantly, loss, of life. She explains the various kinds of waves including rogues, freaks and tsunamis through the eyes of people who live along the coastline. She spends a lot of time with surfers that ride them.
A 40-foot wave represents the maximum size a person can physically surf without mechanical help. Surfers can’t swim fast enough to catch and mount a bigger wave. In Casey’s words, “Anything bigger is simply moving too fast; trying to catch a sixty-foot wave by windmilling away on your stomach is like trying to catch the subway by crawling.”
She goes on to write, “… even if you could catch it, there would be no way to ride it. Too much water rushes back up the face of a giant wave as it crests, sucking you, the hapless human (not enough momentum), and your board (too much friction) over the falls.”
A 40-foot wave is equivalent in height to a three to four story building moving forward at warp speed, and collapsing when it hits shallower water. Surfers slide down the face of the wave, and hopefully get clear before the giant wave collapses on them. At the bottom of the wave lie rocks, coral reefs and crevices to trap, grind and smash unlucky surfers.
To catch the bigger wavers, a jet ski tows the surfer into the wave. It also provides a means of rescue after the surfer wipes out. This is known as tow-in surfing, and was made famous and founded by extreme surfer Laird Hamilton.
Surfing a 40-footer off the North Shore of Hawaii contains danger, but surfing 60, 80, or 100-foot waves screams danger. It also brings a major adrenaline rush. A 100-foot wave would be similar to surfing down the vertical side of an eight-story building that is about to collapse on top of you.
In The Wave Casey wants to understand why big waves are getting bigger and occur more often, and invites us to go along for the adventure. She provides the reader with some data, but not too much. It is not a dissertation or a travel log. Instead, she keeps the reader poised on the edge of his or her seat with tales of extreme surfing, shipwrecks and tsunamis around the world.