The Wave (Susan Casey)


For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories — waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea — including several that approached 100 feet.

As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of people as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100-foot wave.

In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves — from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.

Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.

I vastly enjoy reading Casey’s earlier nonfiction work, The Devil’s Teeth, and I was thrilled to find The Wave offered up on the Goodreads Giveaway Program. I was even more thrilled to actually win an ARC, and I dove into reading it immediately.

I will admit that I love sharks more than water and that I was much more fascinated with the material presented in The Devil’s Teeth than in The Wave, which did lead to a tendency for me leave this book languishing on my bedside table for weeks at a time although I read it avidly enough when I was, you know, reading it. I find Casey’s writing style great for nonfiction material: direct, clear, engaging, and informative without being at all heavy-handed. It definitely is a work to spark your curiosity, but it’s probably not a work I’m likely to reread. (Which reminds me: Where did I put my copy of The Devil’s Teeth?)

The content of this book has so many similarities to the 2003 documentary, Step Into Liquid, that it should be required reading to anyone who enjoyed that film — or viewing the film should be mandatory to everyone who reads this book.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in the ocean, even if you dwell in a landlocked state and your only experience with waves comes from watching Discovery’s The Deadliest Catch.

Originally posted at:

Posted March 2011, moved October 2013
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it isn’t the sparkle
or the roar—
it’s the stillness

Also posted at:

Posted March 2011, moved October 2013
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