Review of The Wave by Susan Casey

“Colossal rogue waves are nature’s deadliest phenomenon – meet the scientists and extreme surfers obsessed with hunting them down.”

So reads the beginning of the blurb on Susan Casey’s latest book, ‘The Wave: In Pursuit of Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean,’ and so reads the book itself, something that I can testify too having poured through this magnificent book, intent on reading the next page, then the next, then the next.

Casey has one simple premise, in writing The Wave; talk to those who understand big waves the best.

It’s a simple premise, but one that ends up taking her from Hawaii to England to South Africa and back to Hawaii via Tahiti. Casey interviews scientists who are on the front line of exploring waves, the salvagers who have to battle the waves each week to save vessels from sinking, and the insurers who have to understand what the vessels are getting themselves into.

All of those aspects of Casey’s book probably only take up one half of the entirety, with surfing the big waves taking up the other half.

Casey seems to have managed to become fast friends with some of the planet’s best big wave surfers, including the pioneering giant himself, Laird Hamilton. The reverence that Casey has for these men, for the water they almost live in, and the reverence that the surfers have themselves, is palpable as you continue to read.

From surfing the biggest waves anyone has ever surfed to losing friends in the surf to just enjoying and understanding a perfect wave, Casey manages to beautifully portray the majesty and awe that many surfers have trouble vocalising.

In the end, however, this book is a love letter to the unknown. Casey’s final conclusion is essentially that we have very little idea what is going on out in the ocean. Humanity literally does not know why rogue waves occur, though sometimes we can replicate them in labs. The math doesn’t add up, but Mother Nature doesn’t need our math to sink vessels large and small, and wreak havoc on our coastlines.

The Wave recounts some of the biggest natural disasters, shipping losses, and surfing achievements, all the while keeping the reader fascinated with prose that is smart, witty, and above all, admiring of the sheer power that is brought to bear every time a wave crashes into the shore.

If you have any interest in understanding just a little bit more of how our planet works; whether you love surfing or the ocean; whether you just want to experience the world from a different perspective, Susan Casey’s The Wave is definitely a must read.

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