Here’s a great human v. nature story, one about the fierce power of gigantic waves and man’s efforts to subdue them. Casey alternates chapters between discussions of scientists who study ‘rogue’ waves—those that are vastly larger than the waves around them and can wreck ships, kill whole crews and destroy environments when the ships’ contents (oil, toxic chemicals and more) leak into the ocean—and surfers who risk anything for the ultimate ride, following weather reports and racing around the world for the opportunity to plunge down the face of monsters that are 50-100 feet high.
The dangers to anyone involved with such colossal waves, be they scientists, ship salvagers or surfers, read like the most suspenseful of adventure stories. All over the world, the waves have names and personalities to fit—Jaws and Egypt off Maui, Mavericks and Ghost Tree off the California coast, Todos Santos off Baja, Teahupoo in Tahiti. For most of history, these waves were thought to be mythical, the stories of sailors’ imaginations because, according to the laws of physics, they didn’t seem possible. But in 2000, the British research ship Discovery with scientist Penny Holliday on board was caught in a storm in the North Sea with wave after wave peaking at over 100 feet—and the vessel had all the equipment to measure and verify their height.
Reading, you move from terrifying stories of shipwrecks and disappearances, of a 1,740 foot wave (really!) that destroyed a swath of Alaskan coastline—and which four boaters actually lived through—to follow big wave surfers, primarily Laird Hamilton, Brett Lickle and Dave Kamala, as they travel the world seeking the ultimate wave. The waves they surf are so huge that they must use jet skis to be towed in. Casey spent a lot of time interviewing the men, following them around the world, and even getting in the ocean and riding a few waves with them.
And if our sense of fear hasn’t been fully awakened, Casey shows that the number and frequency of ferocious killer waves is increasing due to environmental damage as the temperature of the ocean quickly rises and glaciers melt, as ocean current change and collide. (Look for more tsunamis like the one in 2004 that killed 170,000 people in Indonesia.)
I think everyone will like this book—a lot. So if your teacher asks you to read non-fiction, don’t miss it. If you happen to have an interest in oceanography, physics or surfing, you won’t like this book. You’ll love it. You, ocean lover, shouldn’t miss it whether you have an assignment or not. Read it.