08 December 2009

"Chasing Waves" Review

Before we left for our southern hemi vacation, I read the first half of Amy Waeschle's book Chasing Waves: A Surfer's Tale of Obsessive Wandering. At home sick today, I finished the rest while half-watching the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau, a big wave surf contest that, like Mavericks, failed to include even one woman competitor.

Amy tells the story of her journey from enthusiastic newbie to confident surfer, painted with rich detail against the backdrops of varied surf spots from Mexico and Costa Rica to the Pacific Northwest and Portugal. Here are a few highlights to give you a taste of the book.

As a frustrated beginner on a trip to Kauai, Amy laments that with all the time she's spending underwater, she should have asked for a surfboard equipped with a snorkel. In Fiji, she's the lone female on the boat, but like me, due to her choice of professions, she's no stranger to being in that minority.

Amy's husband also surfs, and they plan a trip to Costa Rica. She assumes that a "surfing blitz would help calm my obsession," but even without her forewarning, we know that won't be the case. She's surprised when the instructor at Witch's Rock Surf Camp pronounces that she is in no need of further lessons, but instead should just get out there and surf. Then at Ollie's Point, Amy finds her perfect wave and draws the reader into riding it with her:
"When I dream of surfing now, I dream of Ollie's. I didn't just catch one or two perfect rides, I caught dozens and dozens. I'd paddle one-two-three and slide onto the soft, perfectly pitched slope, hopping to my feet to watch the pale blue wall rise up and extend into forever, my fingers raking the warm water at my side, my grin stretching my sunburnt cheeks. And I would fly, fly, fly, riding the wave until I began to wonder if in fact it had no end. When the ride faded, I aimed my body up and out, and as the lip crumbled into foam at my heels I would be prone, paddling with ease for the outside.
Surfing at a lonely spot in the Northwest with her husband and a friend, Amy is jet-propelled from the water by a man on the beach yelling "shark!" As she has herself alluded to the overblown dangers of the Landlord to dissuade others from surfing her cold-water breaks, she deems it "karmic paypack" when the supposed sighting turns out to have been a ruse to allow the man and his son to surf the break alone. In Italy, Amy encounters barely-populated breaks with no localism. She speculates that perhaps the area has been spared surfing's dark side because "big-name professional surfers have never traveled to Sicily, bringing aggression and territorialism with them the way the Pilgrims brought smallpox."

Having camped beside good surf only to find it vanished overnight, Amy imparts a lesson I've learned but sometimes forget, as does she: "the surf you see in any given moment is just that, a moment. It won't last. It may not be there in the morning. If you see good surf, you forget your plans, you forget your needs... and you surf. Not in an hour, not in the morning, but right then."

Chasing Waves is a short read at only 165 pages, but an entertaining way to pass an afternoon traveling another surfer's path.


  1. Wow, that was a great review of what looks to be a great book. Amy's description of her 'dream' session was magic and so evocative. Great stuff!