A New York Times Notable Book
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
In her astonishing new book Susan Casey captures colossal, ship-swallowing waves, and the surfers and scientists who seek them out.
For legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, hundred foot waves represent the ultimate challenge. As Susan Casey travels the globe, hunting these monsters of the ocean with Hamilton’s crew, she witnesses first-hand the life or death stakes, the glory, and the mystery of impossibly mammoth waves. Yet for the scientists who study them, these waves represent something truly scary brewing in the planet’s waters. With inexorable verve, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.
Excerpted from The Wave by Susan Casey. Copyright © 2010 by Susan Casey. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Susan Casey, author of New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks, is editor in chief of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in the Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Sports Writing, and Best American Magazine Writing anthologies; and has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Outside, and National Geographic. Casey lives in New York City and Maui.
“Examines big waves from every angle, and goes in deep with . . . mariners, wave scientists and extreme surfers. . . . [A] wonderfully vivid, kinetic narrative.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Immensely powerful, beautiful, addictive and, yes, incredibly thrilling. . . . Like a surfer who is happily hooked, the reader simply won’t be able to get enough of it.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[An] adrenaline rush of a book. . . . As terrifying as it is awe inspiring.”
“Casey’s descriptions of these monsters are as gripping in their own way as any mountaineering saga from the frozen peaks of Everest or K2.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Susan Casey's white-knuckle chronicle . . . delivers a thrill so intense you may never get in a boat again.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Reading The Wave is almost like riding one, paddling in the expositional surf of vivid imagery and colorful description thrown at you in ever-escalating surges.” —The Plain Dealer
“Casey does an exceptional job of explaining the natural forces (winds, currents, ocean-bottom shape) that create these daunting, at times fatal, surfing spots. . . . Terrific.” —Wall Street Journal
“Extraordinary. . . . I’m only allowed 800 words for this review. Here are a few: fascinating, heroic, dazzling, terrifying, amazing, unbelievable, mesmerizing, instructive, enlightening, superb. This is a . . . powerful, articulate ride into a world you never knew existed but that you will never, never forget.” —Richard Ellis, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“Utterly engrossing.” —Salon
“Something is stewing in our seas, and Susan Casey—traveling, and in some cases swimming, all around the world—is eager to find out what it is. Both a rollicking look at the ocean’s growing freakishness and a troubling examination of our ailing planet, The Wave gives new meaning to the term ‘immersion reporting.’” —Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail
“[Casey] is a powerful voice in adventure writing. . . . Masterful.” —Outside
“Like the surfers and scientists she profiles, Casey lived and breathed giant waves for years. Casey combines an insane passion for craft with an uncanny ability to describe the indescribable. In The Wave she whisks the reader off to unimaginably surreal settings and puts them in the middle of mind-blowing scenarios. This book sucked me in like the undertow at Pipeline.” —Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars
“[A] breath-snatching thrill ride.” —Elle
“Compelling and wonderfully detailed. . . . An engrossing set of stories about the quest for bigger, stronger, more dangerous.” —Los Angeles Times
“A fabulous page-turner.” —NPR
“This book is adrenalin. You don’t want to surf the waves described herein. Read the book. It’s safer that way.” —Eddie Vedder
“Reading The Wave is the closest most of us will ever come to the sensation of riding, or even seeing, one of these towering monsters of the sea. It’s exhilarating, astonishing, and, not infrequently, terrifying. Brace yourself.” —Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt
“A probing look at both the passionate and the pragmatic sides of these oceanic wonders. . . . Casey’s curiosity in learning about every conceivable aspect of waves makes for compelling reading, regardless of whether you look at waves as a great ride or with great concern.” —BookPage
“At once scary and fun, The Wave surprises at every turn.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe
“[A] captivating hybrid—an intro to the mind-melting physics of waves and a ride-along with the scientists and surfers who chase after them.” —Men’s Journal
“The Wave is an amazing look at humble yet larger-than-life people who live by daring feats, honorable acts, and selfless denial. . . . Terrifying, beautiful, her prose is shot through with the haunting half-light of a storm.” —Doug Stanton, author of Horse Soldiers
1. Why do you think there isn’t more news coverage on sunken freighters, tankers, and bulk carriers? Do tragedies at sea strike a different chord in the popular imagination than say, a plane crash?
2. What’s the difference between surfing a wave and surviving it? What drives people to extreme situations and how does one draw the line between determination and courting disaster?
3. Many big wave surfers, like Laird Hamilton, are married with children. How do you think they rationalize putting their lives on the line for what many would consider sport?
4. Why do you think the psychological beating is often worse than the physical injury for surfers? Do you think Brett Lickle’s mishap towards the end of the book helped him see what was really important in life or psychologically cripple him?
5. Surfers and scientists have different methods of judging a wave’s intensity. Is one rubric more accurate than the other?
6. Susan Casey found a strong female presence in the scientific community that seems to be lacking in the surfing world. Why do you think surfing—and tow surfing in particular—seems to be so male-dominated? What drives more men than women to extreme sports?
7. Why is respect for the waves so important? What happens if you lose this respect?
8. Many surfers in the book refer to themselves as “watermen.” They’re not simply athletes or thrill seekers—they almost have a sixth sense when it comes to the water. What can we learn from these watermen in terms of how they regard and intuit the ocean? What responsibility, if any, do you think these adventurers have to the ocean and to one another?
9. Historically speaking, massive geological events occur frequently, but humans generally remember devastating natural disasters within their lifetimes. Do you think this ability to forget events such as the Lisbon tsunami of 1755 and move on is part of what makes our species so resilient? Or do these sorts of memory lapses leave us ill-prepared to deal with future disasters?
10. After Susan Casey witnesses a sixty-eight foot wave at Killers, she remembers Laird Hamilton’s assertion—“If you can look at one of these waves and you don’t believe that there’s something greater than we are, then you’ve got some serious analyzing to do.” How has your perception of the ocean—and those who study it and ride its waves—changed after reading The Wave?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit: www.readinggroupcenter.com.)