Wave: In Pursuit of the Oceans' Greatest Furies

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9780099531760: Wave: In Pursuit of the Oceans' Greatest Furies

Some people are drawn towards nature at its most extreme - and it doesn't get more extreme than giant waves. These deadly waves have a strangely hypnotic pull on two types of person: for scientists and super-surfers, rogue waves are a grail, and they will go to dangerous lengths to hunt them down. This is a white-knuckle ride with the men who live to catch rogue waves. It zips from Lloyds of London to rusty oil rigs, tropical Tahitian surf shacks to super-computer data labs. Find out what happens when nature confronts nature at her most ferocious.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About 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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE GRAND EMPRESS

Having wandered some distance among gloomy rocks, I came to the entrance of a great cavern... Two contrary emotions arose in me, fear and desire - fear of the threatening dark cavern, desire to see whether there were any marvelous things in it.
Leonardo da Vinci
HAIKU, HAWAII

Eight miles east on Maui's Hana Highway, in the shadow of the Haleakala volcano, away from the tourists streaming to the island's lush southern beaches, there is a candy box of a town called Paia. Only a few blocks in size, its streets thrum with locals-only bars, open-air seafood joints, yoga studios, shops selling bikinis and hemp T-shirts and dolphin-themed art. The peace-love-aloha vibe aside, Paia's main purpose is instantly obvious: every vehicle bristles with surfboards.

The surfers are headed to Spreckelsville and Hookipa, nearby stretches of the north shore where the waves are consistently lively. Both areas are wild and exposed; neither is a spot for beginners. Compared to what lies a little farther up the road, however, they're a pair of kiddie pools. The true spectacle requires another five miles of driving, past the blink-or-you'll-miss-it town of Haiku, down a red-dirt path bearing the signs "No Trespassing," "Beware of Dog," and "Authorized Personnel Only," and through a sea of green pineapple fields. At the foot of those fields, there is a cliff.

It's a lonely spot with a harsh beauty, blasted by wind and pummeled by the sea that surges in, three hundred feet below. But a half mile offshore, a number of geological features have combined to create something even more dramatic and foreboding: a giant wave called Pe'ahi, also known by its nickname, Jaws.

For about 360 days a year Jaws lies dormant, indistinguishable from the seas around it, waiting for the right conditions to come along and set it off, like a match to a gas leak. This is one of the first places the North Pacific storms hit, menacing splotches on the radar maps spiraling down from the Aleutian Islands. When a powerful enough storm arrives, all of its energy - which has traveled through water hundreds and even thousands of feet deep - trips on Jaws' fan-shaped reef. Deep channels on either side of the reef, carved by millennia of lava flow and freshwater drainage from the Pe'ahi Valley, above, funnel the energy inward and upward. (Imagine a runaway Mack truck suddenly hitting a ramp.)

The result is sixty-, seventy-, and eighty-foot waves, so beautifully shaped and symmetrical that they might have come from Poseidon's modeling agency. The white feathering as the wave begins to crest, the spectrum of blues from rich lapis to pale turquoise, the roundness of its barrel, the billowing fields of whitewater when it comes crashing down - when you envision the cartoon-perfect giant wave, the gorgeous snarling beast of Japanese landscape paintings, what you are seeing is Jaws.

As far back as the 1960s surfers had been coming to the cliff and eyeballing Jaws. "This is a super freak wave," the famed surfer Gerry Lopez said after one reconnaissance. "Looking at it makes you physically nauseous." Lopez, a 1970s pioneer on some of the Pacific's most fearsome waves, had originally nicknamed Jaws "Atom Blaster," because "it broke like an atomic bomb." That didn't stop people from wanting to ride it, though, and when tow surfing came along, they got their chance. They learned a few things right away. Most important: like all sets of jaws, this one had a tendency to snap shut, swallowing anything unfortunate enough to be inside it. And its teeth... well, they were more like fangs.
On a gusty afternoon in late October 2007, I sat in the passenger seat of a battered golf cart as it drove past the Pe'ahi cliff and wound down a steep, stony path toward the ocean. At the wheel was Teddy Casil, a rugged Hawaiian with a bouncer's physique and a don't-mess-with-me vibe. With his left hand, Casil alternated steering the vehicle with drinking a can of Coors Light; in his right hand he held a large machete. Every so often we stopped so he could hack off some jungly tentacle that was blocking our way. At times the path became so precipitous and twisty and thick with red mud that I thought we might just cartwheel to the bottom. But this was no ordinary golf cart. It had been jacked up, fitted with knobby tires, Recaro seats, all-wheel drive, and safety netting. It was ready for anything, its owner made sure of that. And he was right behind us, driving an enormous tractor: Laird Hamilton.

Hamilton, as mentioned, is not the typical small and wiry surfer dude you see on the World Cup Tour, doing flippy tricks in ten-foot waves. He's a large guy, and visibly powerful, a huge advantage in the biggest seas. His back muscles, shaped by decades of paddling, are so defined that they almost seem to push him forward. It is when sitting atop a piece of earth-moving machinery or balanced at the peak of a seventy-foot wave that Hamilton most comfortably fits into scale. Not every successful life seems inevitable, but in this case it's as though fate set out to tailor-make a human being for one specific pursuit. Hamilton's size, his abilities, his mind-set, his upbringing - everything pointed him into the ocean's heaviest conditions.

California-born but Hawaii-bred, he was raised with the planet's most famous surf break - Pipeline - only steps from the house on Oahu's north shore where he lived with his mother, JoAnn, and his stepfather, Bill Hamilton, a star big-wave rider in the 1960s and 1970s. (The story of how three-year-old Laird selected his own father is etched into surf-world lore. His biological father having left the scene shortly after his birth, Laird encountered Bill Hamilton, then a seventeen-year-old fledgling pro surfer, on the beach. The two connected instantly and body-surfed together for an hour or two, the child clinging to the teenager's back. Afterward Laird told him, "I think you need to come home and meet my mother." Bill Hamilton and JoAnn Zerfas married eleven months later.) And if all that didn't make for a perfect enough petri dish, Gerry Lopez lived next door, acting as a mentor. When Hamilton was six, his father decided to escape Oahu's growing crowds by moving the family to the wilds of Kauai, at the northern tip of the Hawaiian Islands, where the Pacific storms hit first and hardest.

Back then Kauai was a kind of Hawaiian Hades all but closed to outsiders, and Wainiha, the north shore encampment where the Hamiltons lived, was a rugged, isolated backwater where things like electricity and indoor plumbing were scarce. Though it's hard to imagine Laird Hamilton being picked on, his non-native status made school one perpetual fight. Surfing was a way to channel the frustration; by age thirteen Hamilton had become a respected presence at Kauai's most demanding breaks. Between the fierce Na Pali Coast in his front yard and the serpentine rivers that streamed off Mount Wai'ale'ale (a 5,200-foot volcanic peak that has the distinction of being the wettest spot on earth) in his backyard, Hamilton said, “I just happened to grow up in the most aggressive water in the world."

When I decided to head out in search of giant waves, he was the obvious person to call. Our paths had crossed before. During the 1990s I'd worked at a magazine that covered extreme sports, and Hamilton's exploits qualified, to say the least. Over the years I followed his career as it progressed from "Hey, what's he doing?" to "Oh my God, look at what he's doing!" to a level even beyond that, where the most common response was speechless gaping. By the time Hamilton turned thirty he was already hailed as a legend; now, at forty-three, he was still considered the greatest big-wave rider, despite a talented pack of would-be successors trying their best to dethrone him.

Not only did he ride waves that others considered unrideable, at Jaws and elsewhere, but he did it with a trademark intensity, positioning himself deeper in the pit, carving bottom turns that would cause a lesser set of legs to crumple, rocketing up and down the face, and playing chicken with the lip as it hovered overhead, poised to release a hundred thousand tons of angry water. He seemed to know exactly what the ocean was going to do, and to stay a split second ahead of it.

That intimacy, that rare knowledge of what it feels like to be part of an eighty-foot wave - to be in it, to be on it - was something I wanted to understand. So I had come to Maui. This was where tow surfing had been brought to the world's attention, and Jaws was still the gold standard for giant waves. It was also the reason why Hamilton lived on this island, at the top of these pineapple fields: Jaws was literally in his backyard. During a big swell he can feel the wave before he sees it. The ground shakes for miles.

When I'd arrived at his house earlier in the day, Hamilton and Casil were digging a ditch. If the waves were absent Hamilton channeled his energy into working on his land, to tending it and building on it and clearing brush off it. In particular, he loved to move large hunks of it around so that a steeplechase racetrack for golf carts could be created, or a 700,000-gallon pond with a twenty-foot cliff jump carved out of a hillside. Casil, a friend who also helped manage the property, was usually there working with him.

As I stood watching the ditch grow deeper, I noticed a line of steely clouds massing on the skyline. This was typical Maui weather, sudden squalls followed by soft rainbows. In the ocean there were smallish waves coming from the west. But it was almost November, when the Pacific storm swells would begin to arrive, swapping average conditions for threatening ones. Likely Hamilton had that calendar on his mind when he stepped back from his digging and turned to me. His hair, skin, shorts, and boots were all covered in a brownish-red dust. "You wanted to swim out to Pe'ahi?" he said. "Today's a good day."

I did want to do this. After hearing haunting descriptions of the seafloor topography that creates the wave, I was curious to see it. Some people said the reef was shaped like a fan. Others said it was pointed like an arrow and that its apex disappeared into the gloom of the sea. I'd heard talk of a "tongue of lava" down there, which seemed appropriate for Jaws but also fairly sinister. Hamilton's close friend and fellow big-wave rider, Brett Lickle, had described Jaws' seafloor as being riddled with pits and overhangs and caverns. "It's not this beautiful flat thing down there," he said, describing how during a wipeout "there are tons of little holes and places that you can get stuck."

"So it's calm out there right now?" I asked.

Hamilton smirked. "Well, for this time of the year, yeah. About as calm as it's gonna get."
As Hamilton, Casil, and I emerged from the thick vegetation the trail opened up into a cove at the base of the cliffs. Surf heaved in and out against the boulders that ringed its shoreline. The place had an almost northern feel, with fir and pine trees bent at arthritic angles from the wind. There was no hint of the Maui depicted in tourist brochures, nowhere to gradually wade in, no white sand beach. We were two bays up the coast from Jaws, maybe a mile away by water. Casil popped open another Coors Light and set off up the path to do some trail maintenance, followed by Hamilton's two rat terriers, Buster and Speedy, their tails twitching with happiness.

Hamilton, standing in surf shorts and mud-encrusted Wellingtons, gestured toward the water. "Are you ready?" he said. "Do you have your mask? I need you to have good visibility, because we're going to be swimming close to the rocks." As he pulled off his boots, and a rust-colored sock that was once white, I noticed that his right foot was bruised a vivid purple. "The other day I dropped a hundred-pound bench on my foot," he explained. "I broke a toe and dislocated all of the knuckles." He said this in the tone of voice that someone might use to describe a slight irritation, a blister perhaps, or mild sunburn. When you consider what Hamilton's feet have endured - it was. He has snapped his left ankle five times while tow surfing, the joint straining against his foot straps with such force that it finally gave way. One time the bone shattered so sharply that it poked through his skin. He has also broken every toe on his feet (most more than once), fractured both arches multiple times, and lost most of his toenails.

Following him, I edged my way down a tumble of black basalt rocks. Some were slick with red algae that had a ticklish feel. Where ocean met land, the surf swelled and bashed. I watched as Hamilton timed the waves, jumping when one receded but before the next arrived, quickly clearing himself from the impact zone. I looked down. Sea cucumbers and limpets made S-shapes on the rocks. When I saw the whitewater wash back over them, I jumped.

The water was a dusky aquamarine, milky with turbulence. As I adjusted my mask and looked around I saw a field of boulders below, as though we were swimming over a huge upside-down egg carton. It was an elemental place, a seascape of broken rock on an island born from the wrenchings of a volcano. Describing Jaws' surrounding waters earlier, Hamilton said that the wave's intensity made it hard for marine life to thrive anywhere around it. He was right. This was no place for the ornamental or the fragile. The delicate seahorses and cute unicorn fish that floated above reefs on the island's leeward side would last about five minutes in this washing machine.

Hamilton took off in a hail of bubbles. I tried to follow his fins as he threaded through the rocks, but waves tossed me around and I lost sight of him immediately. I steered away from the shoreline to get my bearings. Hamilton's snorkel popped up for an instant and then vanished again beneath a whitecap. For him, swimming out to Jaws on a day when it wasn't breaking was like taking a boat tour of Niagara Falls after you'd already gone over it in a barrel, a deep anticlimax. For me, on the other hand, it was a combination of fear and fascination, the feeling you'd get if you peered into a monster's den while it was asleep.

We headed diagonally across the bay. After a few hundred yards Hamilton stopped and pointed down: "See that hole? That's a miniature version of what's on the reef." Below us lay a maze of rocks; some rounded, some flat, some with sharp, angular corners. They were heaped together in a brutal mosaic, with thin paths snaking between them. In the center was a darker crevice, about the width of a human body.

Jaws' epicenter lay a half mile ahead, but already I could sense that we were in the neighborhood. The water turned abruptly from marine blue to navy-black as the bottom dropped off. Against the darkness it was easy to envision the hazy outline of a tiger shark, its stripe pattern almost a shadow on its massive body. I would have preferred to sprint across this section, but Hamilton stopped and raised his mask. He gestured to some cruel-looking rocks offshore. "A lot of guys wash up on these rocks. See, there'ss a piece of rescue sled." I looked and saw a white shard jutting up like a dagger, a remnant of the six-foot-long sled that connects to the back of the Jet Ski. Over the years dozens of surfboards, rescue sleds, and Jet Skis had met their end on those rocks, as acres of whitewater boiled toward the cliff. Every forward escape route dead-ended here; anyone stuck nearby would be powerless to avoid the collision. I had always known this was a serious place. But at that moment, seeing the wreckage, it hit me in a visceral way. There were just so many things that could go wrong out here.
It is impossible to think about Hamilton - and J...

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Descripción Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Some people are drawn towards nature at its most extreme - and it doesn t get more extreme than giant waves. These deadly waves have a strangely hypnotic pull on two types of person: for scientists and super-surfers, rogue waves are a grail, and they will go to dangerous lengths to hunt them down. This is a white-knuckle ride with the men who live to catch rogue waves. It zips from Lloyds of London to rusty oil rigs, tropical Tahitian surf shacks to super-computer data labs. Find out what happens when nature confronts nature at her most ferocious. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780099531760

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Descripción Vintage Books, 2011. Estado de conservación: New. 2011. Paperback. A story about man confronting nature at its most ferocious. Num Pages: 352 pages, Illustrations (chiefly col.), maps (some col.), ports. (chiefly col.). BIC Classification: WSSG. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 199 x 371 x 25. Weight in Grams: 314. . . . . . . Nº de ref. de la librería V9780099531760

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Descripción Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2011. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Some people are drawn towards nature at its most extreme - and it doesn t get more extreme than giant waves. These deadly waves have a strangely hypnotic pull on two types of person: for scientists and super-surfers, rogue waves are a grail, and they will go to dangerous lengths to hunt them down. This is a white-knuckle ride with the men who live to catch rogue waves. It zips from Lloyds of London to rusty oil rigs, tropical Tahitian surf shacks to super-computer data labs. Find out what happens when nature confronts nature at her most ferocious. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780099531760

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Descripción Vintage Books. Estado de conservación: New. 2011. Paperback. A story about man confronting nature at its most ferocious. Num Pages: 352 pages, Illustrations (chiefly col.), maps (some col.), ports. (chiefly col.). BIC Classification: WSSG. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 199 x 371 x 25. Weight in Grams: 314. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Nº de ref. de la librería V9780099531760

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Descripción Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Not Signed; Some people are drawn towards nature at its most extreme - and it doesn't get more extreme than giant waves. These deadly waves have a strangely hypnotic pull on two types of person: for scientists and super-surfers, rogue waves are a grail, and they will go to dangerous lengths to hunt them down. T. book. Nº de ref. de la librería ria9780099531760_rkm

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