20 January 2011

"The Wave" Review: Lots of Laird, Minuscule Maya

Traveling to Moscow involves moving ahead 11 times zones, effectively turning night into day. I had serious problems adjusting to the change, and found myself wide awake for large portions of the Moscow night, then struggling to stay awake during all-day work meetings that occurred while California slept. Insomnia gave me ample time to watch the surf movies I brought on my netbook, and to plow through a couple of books, including Susan Casey's The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.

This review by the Waterman's Library is pretty spot on. I wanted to like the book, but it was somehow unsatisfying. Little errors in the sections where I have local knowledge made me skeptical of the rest. For example, Casey refers to Half Moon Bay as the sleepy fishing village by Mavericks, when in fact that's Princeton-by-the-Sea; the pleasant town of Half Moon Bay is several miles south and inland. Casey also describes the year-round uniform for surfing Mavericks as full up: wetsuit, gloves, booties, hood. Although I've not surfed Mavericks, I have surfed the near-shore breaks closest to it, and there are significant parts of the year when gloves and hoods are not worn by most surfers.

But my biggest disappointment with the book is its almost complete omission of women big wave surfers. Casey spends a lot of time with Laird Hamiliton, and though she tries to tone it down, it's clear she adores him. (To be fair, if he'd surfed a wave at Jaws on his jet-ski with me on the back, I'd think he was wonderful too.) Female chargers are not mentioned until page 245 of the 312-page book, and then get less than two pages. Casey describes seeing Maya Gabeira at the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards, where she's up for Girl's Best Performance. It's a distressingly sexist event, with the Billabong interviewer dismissing her accomplishments to call her hot and ask if she's single, and Occy congratulating Maya onstage and then asking her to get him a beer. Casey mentions nominees Jamilah Star and Jenny Useldinger in passing, then gives Maya just a few paragraphs to tell her story and comment on what it's like for a woman to participate in the testosterone-fueled sport of big wave surfing. I would rather the author had cut out a little of the Laird-worship to devote a whole chapter to this topic, as there is certainly enough interesting material and her almost total neglect of the subject is a striking omission. Perhaps I'll have to write a book on women who surf mountains, someday.

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