Rating:The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey. Doubleday (2010), 318 pages.
Oh, Susan. I’m so embarrassed for you. Aren’t you embarrassed? Must all your books become a paean to your unbridled lust for one of the main characters? When you had an affair with one of the scientists in The Devil’s Teeth, it didn’t distract terribly from the story, and we, the readers, figured it was a unique occurrence. But now you’re lustily chasing after all the surfers in this book, particularly Laird Hamilton—a married man—and it’s too much. It’s too much!
I bought this book because I had faith in your ability to write about natural science in an engaging manner. (The Devil’s Teeth was fabulous, and won a Gustine in 2005.) Also, I love tsunamis and rogue waves. Adore them! Can’t get enough of them! What a pity that your book treats those topics so brusquely in order to devote more space to surfers and how hot they are. As well as page upon page of actual surfer dialogue, so that we can hear for ourselves how awesome they are:
“Ah, cuz,” Shearer said. “The weather was just shit. Totally ridiculous. It was like, ‘Where’d this come from?’ Visibility less than a mile…”
“It was spooky,” Emory agreed. “We rolled up to the beach thinking, ‘Ah, it’s nothing.’ We got out there and it was like, ‘Woah! Wake-up call! Holy shit!”
“It was all disorganized and funky,” Shearer recalled. “I’d never seen it like that. It was really screwed up…”
Casil reached into the cooler and passed out another round. “That whole day just sounds cartoonish,” he said.
“Oh, it was, Lickle said, popping open a can. “The bigger it got, there was no reality to it. It was the friggin’ Twilight Zone.”
From somewhere back in the garage, Hamilton chimed in: “It was another scale! Other scale. Metric scale.”
In other words, this is not a book for people who like science and/or nature writing. It’s a book pretending to be something it’s not, and using the success of its predecessor to lure people into a purchase they will regret…unless you are the sort of person who actually wants to hear the rest of the above conversation, which continues on in the same vein for nine and a half more pages.
Susan employs a very tiresome tone throughout the book: one that shouts, “I was there! I was there! I know these surfers personally! We shared beer and secrets together!” I’m pretty sure she intends for her audience to feel painfully jealous.
I did feel bitter, not because Susan and the surfers got along so famously, but because there are only two chapters (36 pages out of 318) that are worth reading. Chapter 7 (I Never Saw Anything Like It) tells the story of the landslide-induced-tsunami-prone Lituya Bay, Alaska, which has endured numerous cataclysmic tsunamis, and explores, in great detail, the 1958 event that decimated the bay. That chapter also touches on the 1964 earthquake centered near Prince William Sound, Alaska, which caused a devastating tsunami in Crescent City, Oregon. Great material, well-written…but alas, the next chapter returns to the hot surfers.
The other chapter worth reading (rounding out the 36 pages worth your time and money) is Chapter 9 (Heavy Weather), which discusses rogue waves (the only place in the book where you will learn about rogue waves, Susan’s subtitle for the book notwithstanding).
Check this book out of your local library and read only those two chapters.
EXCERPTS (Lusty Hamilton-love):
[Hamilton’s] blond hair whipped back in the spray; his muscular arms were spread wide for balance as he plummeted down the wave on a tiny board. He had classically handsome features, chiseled and intense, but no fear showed on his face, only rapt focus.
* * * *
I noticed Hamilton across the yard, puttying a fin onto a surfboard. His movements were brisk and efficient, his arm muscles flexing as he worked. It was an improbable display of vigor….
* * * *
If you spent time around Hamilton, you learned to sense his moods. His energy was the high-octane sort; along with the extra power, there was a heightened risk of detonation. When Hamilton was frustrated or upset, his whole presence signaled it. His eyes flashed a duller color than their usual sea green and hardened into a disconcerting stare, his movements tightened, his voice became lower and flatter, his muscles flexed as though spoiling for a fight.
The hallmark of every good romance novel is a thorough description of the protagonist’s eyes and how they change color depending on mood. Also, they must “flash.” Flashing is de rigueur. (Although how eyes could flash “duller” I don’t understand, since flashing usually denotes a lightening in color.) Could this book please be categorized as Romance so that people interested in nature writing are not deceived?
Well, thank you! I just finished ‘The Wave’ (thankfully, a library book) and immediately went on line and searched “Susan Casey, Laird Hamilton affair’ ! Come on. They MUST HAVE. Either that or Susan Casey is stuck in her adolescence because it was just too OBVIOUS. I enjoyed parts of the book…more than you…but in the end, I was left with a sad feeling for Gabby Reese…she was so obviously glossed over in the book and this shark-woman constantly stroking her man’s ego as she is trying to have and raise his babies (seemingly alone). It was so strange that she mentioned that Sky child several times and never mentioned HIS children ONCE. In my opinion, she was deliberately marginalizing his marriage, his wife and his children. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
Marty, I am SO HAPPY to hear from a reader who noticed the same thing. Thanks so much for writing!
You know, I happened to catch Susan Casey’s appearance on Jay Leno (I did not MEAN to catch her; I just wanted to see Headlines), and when Hamilton walked on stage about 10 minutes into her interview, the look on her face confirmed, 100%, my impression from reading the book. If I were poor Gabby Reese, I would divorce him simply because of that look.
Totally!!! I am mad that I bought this book. She’s just so… gross about him! Not what I was expecting from the reviews at all. I am glad someone else is commenting on it too.
Thanks for writing, Jenn!
Did you read The Devil’s Teeth?
No- is it worth checking out from the library? I don’t think I will ever buy another one of her books, ha! I don’t want to contribute to her again! (I was reading reviews on Amazon and one of them said that she lived with the Hamiltons for 5 years. I don’t know if that is true but wow!)
PS I love your reviews! You are spot on! What a great site, I am so glad to have found you!
Thanks! We hope to hear your thoughts on other books here that you’ve read, too.
I totally understand not wanting to give her any money. Yes, The Devil’s Teeth is worth checking out of the library. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about the sort-of-implied affair in that book, too. (But don’t worry; it’s mostly about sharks.)
Definitely- so happy to have found you! And I just ordered this: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/antarctica-gabrielle-walker/1110904109?ean=9780151015207 new book on Antarctica (obsessed!) Before I clicked “buy” I really checked out the author to make sure I wasn’t contributing to another author with boundary issues! Gabrielle Walker seems quite cool. I will definitely check out The Devil’s Teeth after I cleanse my pallet. Thank you for replying!
She did have an affair with one of the scientists in Devils Teeth which got him fired. Whatever she paid Laird, I hope it was worth the trouble she caused and I hope Laird had the sense not to have an affair with her!
I checked out The Wave twice because I wanted to re-read it before passing judgment. Howeer, it only confirmed my suspicions that Susan Casey worships the ground Laird Hamilton walks on. One doesn’t go into detail about muscles twitching as the guy turns the wheel. She gave a mere paragraph’s credit for the magnificent Gabrielle Reece, a few years ago voted one of the five Most Beautiful Women in the World, and talked of the children very perfunctorily. I got the idea she wanted to share surfspeak to let a reader know that big-wave surfers are human, too, and I did learn a lot about Laird–every single muscle and cell. In fact, at 75 I fell a little in love with him myself! But this book, The Wave, is titled wrong. It should be called “Laird’s Waves”. She devoted the greater part of her book to him. Maybe it is just worship, maybe it is lust. I really don’t care about the lower part of his–er–minimalist home with all the toys and tractors and surfboards and we should not, either. There is an awful lot more she could have said about rogue waves and that book should have covered only waves and destruction. Surfers–well, she could have done a separate book on them, called “Hanging Ten with the Surfers” or “Laird Hamilton, Surf God.” Annnnyhoooo–
That ended up rather ignoble.
Any fool who goes out on boards just to ride a 100-foot wave is courting death. Ships braving the seas and lives destroyed–now there is something to be concerned about. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, The Great Deluge by Doug Brinkley…if Susan Casey places her book in that realm of greats, she’s just as big a fool as the maverick surfers. I am not that sure they liked her that much anyway. Looking puppy-eyed at Laird during her pre-book research only revealed one thing–she’s got it bad and that ain’t good.
Also, in case you are curious, Susan Casey also did talks on the book, which you can track on various YOuTubes, and her unabashed worship of Laird Hamilton still comes through. Hmmm. Wonder how Gabby took the book? There are pictures of her, Susan, and Laird, as if they are palsy-walsy.
Very interesting perspective (your comments). I was interested in reading the book, until I came upon this site. I read her previous book, The Devils Teeth, and rather enjoyed it. But once I read these reviews, and I searched photos of them together, it was all too clear with the body language. A true lady, and someone I am interested in learning through her perspective, has no business overstepping the boundaries of a married couple. Yes, its a two way street, but she is responsible for curving her body into his and leaning into him all the while with Gabbrielle close by. I can only imagine what it was like when she wasn’t. :/
You know, after reading this book a third time, and getting past Susan Casey’s obvious admiration and awe of Laird Hamilton, I began to go past all that and found to my surprise that the rest of the book about the rogue waves in the ocean and the shipwrecks and her research of the subject of the sea was quite impressive. I believe the Devil’s Teeth was a great book. Also I looked her up on the web and found she has quite a history, one being a top person in Outside Magazine which I do read avidly. Her introductions to each chapter are moving and show her awe and respect for the Deep. When I wrote the previous email, I was focused on how Susan Casey kept referring to Laird’s physique and hanging out with the surfers. But I think now that she didn’t want to hang out to be around Laird as much as I thought before. This group of surfers is not your average bunch of “Moondoggies;” they are in a superior class of their own. To go out on a giant wave and almost die — Brett Lickler was the guy who, after re-reading this book, who almost died and had the courage to quit the big waves. Those last chapters were really beautifully written. When Susan and Laird on out there in “Egypt,” where lurks the wave that resembles the Great Pyramid, and Laird showed great emotion and love for his friend Brett, that I believe was one of the best parts of her book. I think then that she felt a profound compassion, not lust, and later when she talked with Brett about his near-death and how he felt relieved to be on the cliff and not in the water there was a frankness I admired. I believe perhaps, like many women, Susan might (and probably she would deny it vehemently) feel as if she was walking with sea gods, so I have revised my opinion of her association with Laird as no more than platonic. With a woman like Gabby Reece as his wife, I don’t believe Susan or any woman could compete and I think she knows it. It is kind of like being friends with great sex symbols but not having an affair with them. Correct me if I am wrong but I have a woman’s prerogative to change my opinion somewhat.
I’m thrilled you took the time to write a follow-up post after rethinking your position. Thanks! Yes, there’s no doubt she is a superb writer. I just wish there was less surfer stuff and more of the natural science. Of course, she can write whatever sort of book she wants, but then the cover & title (especially the subtitle) should have been different. I feel the book was mis-marketed…I sense confusion between the publisher’s editorial department, sales department, etc. as far as whom this book is meant to appeal to.
I’ve just read The Wave and have just come across your site as I, too, admittedly, was impelled to Google “Laird Hamilton Susan Casey Affair.” The cynic in all of us would have to assume something salacious went on between Casey and Laird, given her exhaustively-documented and floridly-articulated gushing over the guy.
With that said, and to echo what Tara wrote in her more recent post, I think we are all perhaps – and disappointingly so – barking up the wrong tree. To read about Laird and Co.’s heroic exploits in the face (pun intended) of 100 foot monsters is, inescapably, to be in awe of them. The fact that Casey writes about Laird’s muscles and his physique was, to my eye, exposition but only for the sake of painting a vivid picture. Indeed, as a straight male I still want to know the details about any man (or woman) – and his physicality – who takes on Jaws and Todos Santos…seriously, what does that guy look like? What the hell does he eat? Does he have 8-pack abs or a mere 6-pack? What makes him laugh? what makes him cry?
If Casey were a man, she would get a free pass from us, I think, but then she also probably wouldn’t have as much access to those Alpha-male surfer dudes. Who doesn’t want a pretty blonde hanging on your every word and story? But does that mean she was flirting consciously to get a ride into the front row of any given surf line-up – let alone was she doing anything well over the line of propriety to get to the -ahem- meat of her story? My gut says no, especially given her past record of professionalism and achievements.
As for the dearth of deeper scientific description – I’ve got to disagree. I don’t have a science background, so as a layperson, I was very satisfied with the amount she delved into the science aspect, and I did feel she covered a pretty wide swath of the world of Big Waves – the surfers, the merchant mariners, the rescuers; the insurers – enough so to justify the generalness of the book’s title.
It’s good to get a guy’s point of view on this. Loved your “Does he have 8-pack abs or a mere 6-pack?” question. I think you’re right that she did cover a lot of wave science, probably more than enough for most people interested in Big Waves. I can see why you didn’t find her Laird obsession distracting and I’m sure Laird and the other surfers would agree with you. They no doubt found her obsession to be delightful (for as you point out—who doesn’t love being adored?) For the women though, she’s just annoying at best and, based on the comments here, a lying, husband-stealing, superficial, acts-like-a-12-year-old, not to be trusted “author” at worst.
But regardless of how you see her, I’m curious about your thoughts (and others) on her other books. Did you read The Devil’s Teeth? What did you think?
Thanks for your thoughtful reply! Likewise, despite what I wrote, I can certainly still see how Casey’s approach would have rubbed many women the wrong way. I wonder if that’s just one of the trade-offs of Casey’s gonzo journalism – we’re bound to get a taste of the personality of the journalist/storyteller in the process and it may even, by its very definition, sacrifice some objectivity in pursuit of an engaging story. Or maybe Casey was, indeed, just a home-wrecking surfer groupie ;-p
I actually have not yet read the Devil’s Teeth, though I am constantly hearing how great it is. As a guy who just recently picked up surfing and with an already very healthy fear of what the Aussies like to call “those men in grey suits”, I’m not sure I need to read any more about how terrifying sharks can be, but I may have to pick it up anyway. Will be sure to post here if and when I do!
Hi, too funny re: did they or didn’t they? My husband & I both read the book and loved it. We both also thought she had a bit of a crush on him, but in light of his super human outlier life, who in all honesty wouldn’t? And I mean that in the best possible way. Super humans are awe inspiring and fascinating. How amazing to be able to move through life in such a manner. As one who has lived in Hawai’i and had the good fortune to catch a few good rides, I completely get it, all of it. I would love to have come to earth as Laird Hamilton. Truly a one in a zillion life. I think Dan’s comment touched on everything really well. She is an excellent writer and I will seek out her other works. In closing, ya can’t steal a husband what doesn’t wanna be catched. Thanks for allowing comments on this book.
Have any of you met Susan Casey or Laird Hamilton? I’m guessing not–and for not knowing these people, you all make some fairly bold claims about them. My favorite post referred to the author as a “husband stealer,” which, considering Laird is still married, is entirely inappropriate. You all sound like petty, bitter, old ladies. Susan Casey actually paid Laird Hamilton to be her guide so the time he spent with her was not the result of an illicit affair, but a job. It should also be noted that the Farallon Island scientist who lost his job as a result of Casey’s research for Devil’s Teeth had nothing to do with an “affair,” but his (perfectly justifiable) disregard for regulations.
Sorry, I don’t agree with the nay-sayers. I think Susan Casey nailed it— The Wave is wonderful. As a married, female, landlubber scientist, I can honestly say that The Wave moved me in a way that nonfiction hasn’t been able to since Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters.
Yes, there was a lot of surfer-worship and yes, I did smile at the description of eyes, muscles, and baritone (!) voices but so what? She did a great job of showcasing the surfers’ ethics and obsession, and neatly illustrated—for those who were still listening after the poetic descriptions of certain surfers—the dark side of the obsession and the ruthless focus that takes its toll on friends and family. I felt that the scientists were paid the same respect, with each of the people she interviewed being painted in a romantic, entertaining way. This book made me yearn for the ocean and every time I read it, I magically spent more time in the water in the following weeks. It’s a bit unfair to imply that there was anything untoward between the author and Laird Hamilton, just because she didn’t take the “warts’n’all” expose tack on the surfing community (which would have been back-stabbing and not exactly inspired confidence in people she’ll be working with on her next project).
I agree with Dan from Vancouver and Angela. Perhaps one significant reason why Laird Hamilton’s wife and children are not much mentioned in Susan Casey’s book is because they have a significant presence in Hamilton’s own book “Force of Nature”, which came out at about the same time as “The Wave”. On the basis of her being prominently thanked on Hamilton’s “Acknowledgements” page, Susan Casey must have played a very major role in putting his book together. It may well be that the two books were essentially collaborative efforts, with hers emphasizing the world of big-wave surfing (in which Hamilton is a very major player) and the physical environment that supports them, while his emphasizes his own personal life, including his family. Is it impossible in this day and age for men and women (even attractive ones) to have purely professional relationships?
Thank you so much for your review!! I’m almost quitting this book, really… And looking for “Susan Casey and Lair Hamilton affair” I’ve found your review, that is my thought exactly!!