Saturday, May 5, 2012

Photo-Op: Wave Theory

Next time you're lying on the beach, listening idly to the sound of the surf, contemplate where those waves come from. What we think of as the main event—the crest, the crash, the spray—is actually the end of a journey that may begin with a storm halfway around the world. Evan Slater, a big-wave surfer and the former editor of Surfing magazine, has an intimate understanding of the sea. His 'Swell: A Year of Waves' (Chronicle, 143 pages, $29.95) is not only a gorgeously photographed guide to the best waves in the world but a lucid introduction to the science behind them. Those imposing breakers that pummel places like Huntington Beach in Southern California may have marched more than 6,000 miles from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, while an unruly wave off west Australia, like the one above, results from the 'Roaring Forties,' winds that push water across jagged reefs and rocky ledges. Waves that break in particular places have received nicknames like 'The Guillotine' and 'Tombstones.' Mr. Slater applies terms such as 'triple-suck' and 'mutant' to the 'freaky wave behavior' that makes these water forms deadly as well as beautiful. Each winter, swells from Siberia hit Hawaii, California, Mexico and Peru, creating irresistible but dangerous waves, most famously North Oahu's Pipeline. It takes a kind of sang-froid to contemplate the sporting side effects of the 2005 Sumatra earthquake (which 'destroyed some breaks and improved others'). But Mr. Slater's plain-spoken prose shows deep respect for the elements, as do photographs that, at their best, seem to freeze the full power of the sea for study. Flipping the pages slowly, inspecting one wave after another, the reader can almost hear them splash against a nearby shore. The Editors

This book review appeared in the Wall Street Journal and on its website. A fascinating idea.

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