I'm in the middle of a book called The Wave by Susan Casey. I picked it up after reading an excerpt of it in Sports Illustrated a few months ago. What a great promo, eh? - one most authors would die for.
A nonfiction account of big-wave surfing and rogue waves as mentioned throughout history, The Wave is a fast-paced read. There's a lively mix of scientific facts and angles related to wave energy, occurrences observed by mariners in recent times and also the exploits of surfers who search the world for the jumbo-jack waves that rival most towns' tallest buildings in height.
What I'm interested as I read the book is the singular focus of individuals, that they're sparked by one certain idea, how they are forever after spurred by the same inspiration and vision for the rest of their careers.
Susan Casey took five years to write the book, including a very stressful period when her own father had died. The perseverance and determination that she found to complete the project mirrored the same qualities in the men she wrote about, especially Laird Hamilton, the most famous of big-wave riders. I first became aware of him after watching Riding Giants, a movie about surfers who go after the behemoth waves everyone else runs from.
Hamilton grew up in Kauai, basically in the area where we stayed just last week. I might have seen him surfing when the waves got big toward the end of our stay; he moves his family back there every winter to be nearer to the likely big-wave surfing spots in case big storm surf rolls down from Alaska. We watched stand-up paddlers taking on head-high waves in Hanalei Bay; not an easy thing to do for a beginner surfer. Hamilton has been fascinated with huge waves and has spent countless hours in the ocean on all sorts of surfing equipment, spurred by his intense drive to surf big waves and understand the forces of the sea and its currents.
The men who study wave science around the world are equally obsessed with their ideas and vision. They spend decades determining the nuances of force, and they build wave models three-dimensionally as well as mathematically. They must follow threads and layers of complication to extreme lengths before anything can be made sense of.
Reading this book has made me think of other men and women who found their calling early in life, perhaps in a split moment when an idea reared up and struck them. I watch documentaries and read biographies of people gripped with the possibilities that lie within concepts they've had in a dream or vision or perhaps glimpsed during a conversation or while reading a book. The universal thread is that the idea is instantaneous; the explanation or the journey on which they embark because of the initial idea is long, arduous and sometimes lumpy, but the best of them always seem to hew to the initial vision as it occurred at the outset.
A book like The Wave is a rapid read. Though it offers a hero-worshiping look at one surfer and his friends, it stirs up my own imagination about giant waves the same way Moby Dick or 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea whipped up wild thoughts of sea beasts that could crush humans. The surfers and scientists as well as the mariners and landlubbers who have witnessed the effects of outlandish waves give vivid accounts of their experiences in storm surf or on high seas. The amazing fact is that the waves themselves are so little understood - and consequently so difficult to predict - in this age of super computers and with so many brilliant thinkers attempting to do so. Food for thought and interesting reading for the human vs big wave contrast and the unique glimpse into the minds and hearts of men driven by a dream.
(Note: There is a certain controversial element of big-wave tow-in surfing that is not addressed in the book. That is, the use of jet-skis to access the waves themselves. Purists are concerned with the fact that jet-skis add a certain level of noise and water pollution to the ocean and allow entree to surf conditions that were inaccessible in former times when only paddling was used. Tow-in surfing using jet skis is now banned at Ghost Tree near Pebble Beach, which is within boundaries of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Ghost Tree has had 50-ft waves during big storm surf and was becoming a legendary spot in its own right, like Mavericks up in Half Moon Bay.)
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way