Friday Reads: Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom.

NOTE: I wrote this draft in 2017, and shelved it. With the recent (2021) release of the HBO documentary, 100 Foot Wave, I’ve revived it.

There aren’t a lot of books written about surfers, and certainly not a lot of books about surfers in my local library. Some of the books are clearly written primarily by the co-authors, and come across as literary braggadocios that are mostly turn-offs. At the least, they run counter to a more modest surfer code. So after starting but not finishing a couple of these, I then picked up Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom, written by big wave surfer Garrett McNamara (GMac) and Karen Karbo. It is a worthy effort, and only a little bit of braggadocio, coming across as a seemingly honest portrayal of GMac’s childhood (which is interesting even without the surfing), rise among the surfing circuits, and his eventual record setting big wave rides.

I had originally wanted something about surfing legend Kelly Slater, arguably the most dominant athlete in his sport, or even any sport, as illustrated by this fantastic infographic. Some facts worth extrication: GOAT Slater has won more world titles than any athlete in any major sport, holds the record for being both the youngest and oldest surfer to win a title (20 and 40), and Kelly has won more titles than the next 3 surfers combined. I also found Slater’s clean living lifestyle of particular interest. But, my public library only had a couple of kid’s books about Mr. Kelly, so I turned to the big wave surfers. Big wave surfing is of interest in its own right, whereby the surfer is towed by a jet ski into waves that are at least 20 feet high, and often much larger. GMac held the world record for largest wave surfed (subsequently eclipsed since I wrote this in 2017), and while the images and video in the aforementioned link are impressive, the size of these waves is somewhat relative. Not to diminish the accomplishment, as it is truly impressive, but relative in the sense that many other big wave surfers have feats that are just as impressive due to a differing set of factors (e.g. barrels, reefs, etc.)

Where this biography succeeds is in telling the story of GMac’s childhood, relationship with his family and fellow surfer brother (Liam McNamara), the surf culture in Hawai’i (GMac settled on the North Shore of Oahu), and his passion for the sport and culture. It fails in that, while not outright braggadocios, it does seem like self-promotion and certainly at times like fortune cookie philosophy.  

McNamara, Garrett and Karbo, Karen. Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom. New York: Harper Wave. 2016.

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