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November 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Why Divers Should Be Excited about The Wave

from the November, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As a diver, you know what it's like to be tossed around by waves. If they're higher than three feet, you can get bounced off a boat hull or even rocks, lose a mask and easily lose sight of your boat. While 60-foot waves can sink a 500-foot container ship in minutes, the boldest surfers seek 100-foot waves just for the thrill. The Wave, a 408-page best-seller by Susan Casey published in 2011 (yes, I'm late reading it, because I doubted I'd be absorbed by a treatise on waves, but how wrong I was), takes you on a ride with tankers, sailors and super-human surfers like you'll never forget. You will surely remember these stories the next time you're bobbing around waiting for your dive boat.

Why Divers Should Be Excited about The WaveWhile The Wave is both a white-knuckle tale of the tallest and most forbidding waves, and a unique look at the science behind monster waves and tsunamis and what goes on below, it's more about the skill, bravery and bravado of the world's top surfers -- people whose love of the water make them kin to us divers but living on an edge I can't imagine. My toughest underwater challenge was working out of a severe and unexpected downcurrent in the Grenadines; these guys and gals work their way out of downcurrents every time they take a spill and the wave crushes them. And they've got no air tank to buy them time. Aside from an exciting read, we divers can take away a few lessons. For example, we know panic kills divers, but panic is a surfer's worst enemy as well. Super surfer Brett Lickle describes his response to panic to Casey:

"A famous saying in big-wave surfing, Lickle says, was 'Everything's okay until it isn't. When things go wrong on a 70-foot wave you've got issues. The key is not to freak out. You freak out, you expend your resources.' Personally, I found it hard to imagine relaxing in the middle of an underwater bomb blast, but apparently this was the trick to survival. If you kept your cool, you had a far easier time down there. Most of the time during a big-wave wipeout, I'd been told . . . the experience unfolded in a frightening but fairly predictable way. Once a rider had weathered the wave's impact, shaken like a rat in a dog's mouth for 15 or 20 seconds, the energy eventually released him and he could make his way to the surface. The important phrase, however, was 'most of the time.' While some waves were forgiving, others seemed to have a distinct malicious streak. 'It's the one-in-a-hundred wave you've got to watch out for,' Lickle said. 'The one that pins you on the bottom, stuffs you in a cave, and tells you, 'Son, here's a little lesson.' Every big swell offered a chance to learn humility, to understand that what allowed a rider to go home with his spine in one piece was an easily blown cocktail of fate, skill, and attitude, with a twist of luck. Dave Kalama had summed this up in the most straightforward way: 'There is no guarantee that you'll be fine. You are completely at the mercy of the wave.'''

Susan Casey, whose previous book was the best-selling The Devil's Teeth, takes you on a trip you won't forget. She follows the surfers as they seek out monsters in Hawaii, Tahiti, California and Alaska (where a 1,740- foot wave scalped a forest in 1958) and you ride along with them, vicariously sharing both their supreme fears and their extraordinary adrenalin rushes. I couldn't put this book down. You can order it, as well as The Devil's Teeth, at www.undercurrent.org . All profits we earn on any sales through Amazon.com go to support coral reef preservation.

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