The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

3.8 152
by Susan Casey

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From Susan Casey, bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal,  ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out. For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the


From Susan Casey, bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal,  ship-swallowing rogue waves and the surfers who seek them out. For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dismissed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea—including several that approached 100 feet.As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of peo­ple as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100­-foot wave.In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.

Editorial Reviews

John Lanchester
This might seem a bit of a gimmick, blending as it does the worlds of meteorologists and physicists, among others, with portraits of gnarly surfer dudes such as Laird Hamilton…But somehow it all hangs together. This is due in part to its scary environmental theme…and especially to Casey's singular fascination with waves, the bigger the better, which emerge not just as hydrological phenomena but as distinctive, often malevolent personalities that in some ways are the most interesting characters in her book…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
Holly Morris
Casey makes a convincing, entertaining case (nifty cliffhangers and all) that there is a heretofore little-known monster in our midst…Casey is fluent in "gnarly" and proficient in "wonk," and she writes lucidly so the rest of us can come along for the ride…[a] wonderfully vivid, kinetic narrative…
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
“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

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

57.5° N, 12.7° W
FEBRUARY 8, 2000
The clock read midnight when the hundred-foot wave hit the ship, rising from the North Atlantic out of the darkness. Among the ocean’s terrors a wave this size was the most feared and the least understood, more myth than reality—or so people had thought. This giant was certainly real. As the RRS Discovery plunged down into the wave’s deep trough, it heeled twenty- eight degrees to port, rolled thirty degrees back to starboard, then recovered to face the incoming seas. What chance did they have, the forty-seven scientists and crew aboard this research cruise gone horribly wrong? A series of storms had trapped them in the black void east of Rockall, a volcanic island nicknamed Waveland for the nastiness of its surrounding waters. More than a thousand wrecked ships lay on the seafloor below.
Captain Keith Avery steered his vessel directly into the onslaught, just as he’d been doing for the past five days. While weather like this was common in the cranky North Atlantic, these giant waves were unlike anything he’d encountered in his thirty years of experience. And worse, they kept rearing up from different directions. Flanking all sides of the 295-foot ship, the crew kept a constant watch to make sure they weren’t about to be sucker punched by a wave that was sneaking up from behind, or from the sides. No one wanted to be out here right now, but Avery knew their only hope was to remain where they were, with their bow pointed into the waves. Turning around was too risky; if one of these waves caught Discovery broadside, there would be long odds on survival. It takes thirty tons per square meter of force to dent a ship. A breaking hundred-foot wave packs one hundred tons of force per square meter and can tear a ship in half. Above all, Avery had to position Discovery so that it rode over these crests and wasn’t crushed beneath them.
He stood barefoot at the helm, the only way he could maintain traction after a refrigerator toppled over, splashing out a slick of milk, juice, and broken glass (no time to clean it up—the waves just kept coming). Up on the bridge everything was amplified, all the night noises and motions, the slamming and the crashing, the elevator-shaft plunges into the troughs, the frantic wind, the swaying and groaning of the ship; and now, as the waves suddenly grew even bigger and meaner and steeper, Avery heard a loud bang coming from Discovery’s foredeck. He squinted in the dark to see that the fifty-man lifeboat had partially ripped from its two-inch-thick steel cleats and was pounding against the hull.

Below deck, computers and furniture had been smashed into pieces. The scientists huddled in their cabins nursing bruises, black eyes, and broken ribs. Attempts at rest were pointless. They heard the noises too; they rode the free falls and the sickening barrel rolls; and they worried about the fact that a six-foot-long window next to their lab had already shattered from the twisting. Discovery was almost forty years old, and recently she’d undergone major surgery. The ship had been cut in half, lengthened by thirty-three feet, and then welded back together. Would the joints hold? No one really knew. No one had ever been in conditions like these.

One of the two chief scientists, Penny Holliday, watched as a chair skidded out from under her desk, swung into the air, and crashed onto her bunk. Holliday, fine boned, porcelain-doll pretty, and as tough as any man on board the ship, had sent an e- mail to her boyfriend, Craig Harris, earlier in the day. “This isn’t funny anymore,” she wrote. “The ocean just looks completely out of control.” So much white spray was whipping off the waves that she had the strange impression of being in a blizzard. This was Waveland all right, an otherworldly place of constant motion that took you nowhere but up and down; where there was no sleep, no comfort, no connection to land, and where human eyes and stomachs struggled to adapt, and failed.

Ten days ago Discovery had left port in Southampton, England, on what Holliday had hoped would be a typical three-week trip to Iceland and back (punctuated by a little seasickness perhaps, but nothing major). Along the way they’d stop and sample the water for salinity, temperature, oxygen, and other nutrients. From these tests the scientists would draw a picture of what was happening out there, how the ocean’s basic characteristics were shifting, and why.
These are not small questions on a planet that is 71 percent covered in salt water. As the Earth’s climate changes—as the inner atmosphere becomes warmer, as the winds increase, as the oceans heat up—what does all this mean for us? Trouble, most likely, and Holliday and her colleagues were in the business of finding out how much and what kind. It was deeply frustrating for them to be lashed to their bunks rather than out on the deck lowering their instruments. No one was thinking about Iceland anymore.

The trip was far from a loss, however. During the endless trains of massive waves, Discovery itself was collecting data that would lead to a chilling revelation. The ship was ringed with instruments; everything that happened out there was being precisely measured, the sea’s fury captured in tight graphs and unassailable numbers. Months later, long after Avery had returned everyone safely to the Southampton docks, when Holliday began to analyze these figures, she would discover that the waves they had experienced were the largest ever scientifically recorded in the open ocean. The significant wave height, an average of the largest 33 percent of the waves, was sixty-one feet, with frequent spikes far beyond that. At the same time, none of the state-of-the-art weather forecasts and wave models—the information upon which all ships, oil rigs, fisheries, and passenger boats rely—had predicted these behemoths. In other words, under this particular set of weather conditions, waves this size should not have existed. And yet they did.

Meet the Author

SUSAN CASEY, the author of the New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Teeth, is the  Editor-in-Chief of O, the Oprah Magazine, and has also served as creative director of Outside magazine.

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Wave 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 156 reviews.
hippypaul More than 1 year ago
National Geographic published a list in May of 2004 of the 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All time. It included such classics as The Worst Journey in the World, Into Thin Air, and Terra Incognita. I will take bets that The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey ends up on their next list. This fine work is a skein of three interconnected stories, the dawning recognition in the scientific community that the "Giant Waves" long thought to be myth do indeed exist, a review of some of the most deadly effects of great waves, and the thrilling stories of the men and women who challenge the sea for sport. Strange and frightening events have happened at sea. In 1982 a 337-foot-high oil platform which was built to withstand 110-foot seas and 115-mile-per-hour winds capsized and sank close to instantly, killing all eight-four people on board. The author's investigations at Lloyd's of London reveaed an almost unnoticed list of maritime disasters. In the years from 1990 to mid-1997 a total of ninety-nine huge bulk carriers were lost. Then in a four-month period in the winter of 1997-98 twenty-seven vessels along with 645 people were lost in a single four month period. Weaving through this story is the growing belief by the scientific community that things are most likely to get worse before they get better. The effects of climatic change will be significant at sea. Effects that range from higher sea levels to more frequent tsunamis are likely as the increased weight of water makes the sea floor itself more prone to underwater landslides and collapses. In the mist of this change and concern came a startling announcement. In July 2001 a man named Bill Sharp speaking for a surf wear company issued a press release. It offered a prize of $500,000 to anyone who rode a 100 foot wave. This "Golden Carrot" created a huge surge in people attempting to ride big waves and brought many people into the extreme sport who had no business being there. Ms. Casey spends almost half of her book on the sport of surfing and its many manifestations and on the individual who choose the extreme end of the sport. She writes with power and with a deep understanding of the experience. She choose her narrators early and follows them through the period when the fall out from this challenge made a huge and often tragic impact on the sport of surfing. From start to finish this is a wild ride of a book that manages to be as educational as it is exciting. It is hard to review this book without falling into "my heart beat faster" or "I was on the edge of my chair" but it is in truth that good of a tale.
SusieReads More than 1 year ago
Don't take this book as your leisure reading on that next cruise or you will be constantly watching the horizon, wondering if that next freak wave is on its way. My reason for reading this book, subtitled In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, is that I wanted to learn more about huge waves, tsunamis, and ocean behavior. I was not so much interested in the surfers or their stories. However, not far into the book, that changed. The author talks with scientists studying the phenomenon and hangs out with the surfers who tackle these big waves. Despite the recent improvements in monitoring and measuring, the science still has a long way to go and the ocean is still wildly unpredictable. While the scientific information is interesting and enlightening, I really enjoyed getting a bit into the minds of the big-wave surfers who attempt challenges most of us would never even dream of trying. Some have paid with their lives. Many are part of a close knit pseudo-family, enduring the squabbles all families have but watching out for one another, often at the risk of their own lives. "If I scare myself once every day, I am a better person," he had said, "It helps to have that little jolt of perspective that life's fragile." (This quote is from an advance bound galley, so may have changed in the published edition.) The number of huge ships, especially the low-riding tankers, that just disappear without a trace and with little if any media coverage is amazing. Often these ships are registered to countries with loose maritime standards and crewed by under-trained third world natives. The book also contains information on maritime insurance, climate change, marine salvage companies, lots of people and organizations involved with the vagaries of oceanic behavior. I do wish the author had explained a few more of the surfing terms for the uninitiated, like I am. That is my only quibble with the book, and it is a minor one. All in all, the book is a fascinating read. I was given a copy of the bound galley by the publisher, for which I am very grateful.
Brad_the_nook_nerd More than 1 year ago
How many ways can you describe surfing and waves. Apparently not enough to keep my interest. The Wave is written with chapters alternating between the science behind giant waves and the pursuit of extreme surfing. I realize that Ms. Casey probably got interested through the surfing aspect as Laird Hamilton's neighbor in Hawaii, but I lost interest in the surfing aspects of the book after a few chapters. There are too many surfers too keep straight and the waves at some point all come down to the same characteristics--they are big and bad ass and you should be cautious even if you know what you are doing. However, I did find the science fascinating and scary at the same time. I would not recommend reading this during a cruise or a beach vacation as you may have bad dreams. I was traveling while reading this and decided I should not read it in coastal low lands as the images of what could happen are somewhat alarming. I would have enjoyed more science and less surfing with the surfing used to humanize the story. By the end, I found myself skimming to surfing sections.
HollowellTheForgottenRoom More than 1 year ago
The public has eagerly awaited another book by Susan Casey, acclaimed author of Devil's Teeth about great white sharks. Her newest book The Wave is equally astounding, and she earns her stripes as an adventure writer by swimming alongside and jetskiing behind big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton in his quest for monster waves. Casey examines giant waves through the eyes of elite surfers, scientists, and mariners. Through every lense, they are ominous. She describes her own emotional encounter with a huge wave in Mexico as a combination of "amazement and fear and humility," and she watches it progress in slow motion. Although she presses Laird Hamilton to describe his experience with monster waves, it is something beyond words. He just places his hand over his heart. Thank you, Susan Casey, for soundly dispelling the misconception that rouge waves are a rarity in the world's oceans. As the earth's climate heats up, they are becoming more common. Her prose is lyrical, peppered with colorful analogies and vivid contrasts, and it is laced with wry humor. The Wave is a ferocious nonstop ride of a book, and Casey has positioned herself as one of the world's best nature writers.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
The Wave is an outrageously good read, alternately thrilling and terrifying in turns. How many ways can a wave be described? As many ways as there are waves, though one suspects the Hawaiians had more words for the qualities of water than we do. While surfing plays the loudest chords in this book, one of the most resonant notes played was a description of Lituya Bay in Alaska, where epic waves scour the coastline. I went back and forth with the narrative to examine the included photographs again and again. Pictures help, but Casey's descriptions are harrowing. Reading (or writing!) about surfing could be a difficult endeavor. After all, unless one is on the wave, it is difficult to get a feel for its power. Even watching from shore doesn't give one any real feel for what is going on in the water. Casey brings us up close and personal, partly through her access to the men who ride in wild conditions, and partly through her use of language and imagery to describe different conditions: "Among big-wave connoisseurs, Ghost Tree wasn't especially beloved. It didn't break that often, and when it did it lunged open in a maniac sneer, spitting foam and tangled rafts of kelp." For me, I have an indelible picture of this vicious water, as in this different, but equally effective description of Mavericks: "The Aleutian swells thunder three thousand miles across the North Pacific, barging past the continental shelf until their progress is rudely halted by a thick rock ledge that juts offshore about a mile from Pillar Point, near Half Moon Bay's harbor. When it hits this shallower depth, the wave energy rears up, shrieking and screaming, forming the clawed hand that is Mavericks." As I read, I was reminded of Yvon Chouinard's autobiography Let My People Go Surfing because while the visionary businessman and adventurer lamented climate change and the disappearance of glaciers, he prepared for it by developing a bigger line of surfing products. If there is going to be more water everywhere, Chouinard suggests, that's where the business opportunities are for the outdoorsman. But even now we see that the biggest waves are becoming too much for the surfboards now made. Laird Hamilton, surfer extraordinaire, is trying new hydrofoil boards to take on the larger, more destructive waves being generated in oceans whose currents and temperatures are changing. This book is the equal of Born To Run, the word-of-mouth bestseller among athletes and couch potatoes alike. One doesn't have to do more than act like a sponge to enjoy this extraordinary book.
Mom_in_Tennis_Shoes More than 1 year ago
This was a great mix of wave science, climate change doomsday scenario, and extreme sports profile with big wave surfing pioneer Laird Hamilton as the main subject. Jon Krakauer is a much better author for this type of genre, but if you can slog your way through this rather dry tome, you will actually learn a lot about the sport and the growing interest in this division of oceanography called wave science, useful in that they are starting to use this science to predict cataclysmic tsunamis, e.g. the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 and the Japanese tsunami of 2011.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought I would learn something about rogue waves. And did learn a little more than what I have seen on the Nature Channel and the like. First chaper is the best of the book. Rest is mostly about how cool, buff, and brave surfers are and the stupid lenghts they will go to to ride a wave. Snore. Skimmed the last half of the book. I suggest skimming the entire thing. That way you won't feel like you wasted your time. Give it two stars because one of the surfers owns a couple of rat terriers. Now that takes guts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book - Normally only read great "who-dunnit" books, but this was recommended and I wasn't able to put it down. Filled with great stories, scary facts of what's to come and what is out there, and Ms. Casey weaves it together seamlessly.
Katyperk More than 1 year ago
Susan Casey's interest in all things science are evident in this book about waves and the book evolves into a fascinating story of water and physics and the daring required to challenge nature. I have great admiration for the "water man" as well as the ability to understand and know your own limitations. Life is Good and its not about what you have, its how you live and respect the world around you.
windsurfer113 More than 1 year ago
Susan blends the extreme surfing world with the scientific community, alternating between descriptions of dangerous rides on huge waves and scientific investigations of rogue waves. There is a wealth of information in her book, amid predictions of tsunamis and ship disappearances to come. The daredevil (almost suicidal) surfers are exciting (but crazy), and she develops their personalities to help the reader understand what makes them take such chances with their lives. The beautiful but lethal waves are something to imagine, and the surfer community and the photographers are depicted as a close knit community of survivors, always trying to outdo the other as daredevils. Climate change, it is believed, will bring more huge, dangerous waves that can swallow ships without warning. Scientists are trying to find how they develop and give warnings.
Atthebeach More than 1 year ago
I was blown away by the deep, thorough research Casey did on the oceans and those who study them, test them, challenge them, play in them. She made this scientific book read like a thriller. Hundred foot waves, freighters going down every week, surfers zooming all over to ride bigger and bigger waves, researchers risking their lives trying to learn what causes these phenomena, and the economics behind it all. She pulled together interested parties from many walks of life and various resources to explain what's happening out there. And did it in a way that held my attention constantly until the end. What a fascinating endeavor!
comfortably_numb More than 1 year ago
Best book on "rogue waves" I've found. Good story but not to technical...
Iora More than 1 year ago
A riveting read from page one. I'm left with enormous respect for the mysteries & mysticism of the ocean's energy. Important for the time we now live.
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some historical and recent startling facts about wave caused disasters at sea and shore then detailed explanation about giant wave formation, contributing bottom currents and contours, and wave heights attained by the near shore surfable waves and the personalities of those expert enough to ride them. A fun read for any ocean voyager and especially surfer.
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She spotted a strange red berry with white and black speckles. It smelled spicy. Seastorm what is this? Ive never ever Ever EVER seen it before!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Written clearly. Thought about this book for weeks after i finished it.
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