16 September 2013

The Wave by Susan Casey: Audio Book Review

I have declared this week to be my Official Week of Audio Book Reviews.  I've got several audio books banging around in the back seat of my car, as that's where I get most of my book listening done: on my daily 25 minute commute.  I love listening to audio books and I will often listen to books that I would not otherwise pick up to read, but I have a difficult time reviewing them, separating the content from the performance.  So please bear with me.  If you have any fantastic listening recommendations, please let me know in the comments field!

The first one for review this week is one that I recently finished listening to: Susan Casey's book, The Wave: In Pursuit of The Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, read by Kirsten Potter. I borrowed this one from my mom's bookshelf when I visited her in Wisconsin a couple of years ago but I put off reading/listening to it for reasons that are too nebulous to name.  More the fool, me. This is an excellent book that frequently had me riveted during my drives, and my mind often drifted back to it when I was at work or at home, wondering where the narrative would take me next.

Casey's story spans the watery parts of the globe, from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean, and all large bodies of water in between, exploring the phenomenon of wave science and how it has failed to predict the existence of rogue waves--that is, waves that appear out of nowhere and are more than twice  (or even three times) the height of all of the other waves surrounding it.  This might mean a fifty foot wave in twenty-foot seas, but more dangerously it can also mean a giant 125-foot wave in seas that otherwise top out at sixty feet. These are the waves that neither traditional wave science nor oceanography can predict, and they are the waves that sink hundreds of ship every year. They also happen to be exactly the thing that certain big-wave surfers want to be in the right place, at the right time, for.

Thus Casey leads the reader all over the world, from Hawai'i  to South Africa, from Tahiti to the Bank of Cortes (off the coast of Baja California), from the Orkney Islands to Australia, all in the name of science, or sport, or occasionally both. We meet international scientists specializing in wave theory, intrepid salvagers of sunken freighter cargo who work in the most dazzlingly dangerous conditions, and  Laird Hamilton and his comrades, a cohort of big-wave surfers who train hard and play harder, prepared to literally risk life or limb every time they meet a giant wave.

Rising seas, reduced salinity, and higher water temperatures may all combine in the near future to create  rogue waves, not to mention monster storms, that are beyond our imagining.  Some of the scientists interviewed for this book make meteorological proclamations that would not sound out of place in our current spate of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction.  This book covers some seriously scary shit.

Curiously, it also inspired me watch dozens of YouTube videos of waves and tow-surfing, of which here is one for your viewing pleasure.  This is a video of Laird Hamilton, who happens to be the person most frequently mentioned and interviewed in the book, in Tahiti:

Casey writes with an odd reverence for Laird Hamilton, the man most often credited with pushing big wave surfing to the level it is now. He invented (with a friend) a method called tow-surfing (which I confess I heard as toe-surfing for at least the first half of the book, before it dawned on me), where surfers are towed on jet-skis at higher speeds to catch the biggest waves. Prior to that, surfers were only paddling out to meet the waves and could only work up so much velocity before dropping down into the barrel.

The reader, Kirsten Potter, does an overall very solid job with this book, and because Susan Casey occasionally writes with the narrative "I", I often forgot that it was not she reading her own book. I was only briefly and intermittently jolted out of the story when Potter mispronounced various commonplace words like quayside or gunwale. She nailed more difficult words, like with Tahiti's surfing mecca called Teahupoo, but floundered on Haleakala, the mountain on Maui.  Still, these brief instances aside, this is an audio book that I can wholly recommend, particularly if you're interested in nonfiction.

Here's one more video, this time of Garrett McNamara, also mentioned frequently in the book, taking on a 90-foot wave off the coast of Portugal:

1 comment:

Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)