Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Riding the Magic Carpet (Part 1)

This book review was published in Issue 58 of The Surfer's Path in December 2006. A different review of the same book can be found here.

'Riding the Magic Carpet' by Tom Anderson (Summersdale Publishing) tells the story of a guy from South Wales who dreams of riding the right hand point break at Jeffrey's Bay in South Africa. This in itself might seem peculiar since these days one might expect grommets to be dreaming of perhaps Pipeline or Mavericks. A little bit like dreaming of climbing Mont Blanc or Kilimanjaro rather than Everest. Worthy and undoubtedly a wonderful thing to do, but an unusual dream. However, the early 1990s were unusual times and the combination of the release of Nelson Mandela, the ending of apartheid and the best surfer in the world was simply too much. The images of Tom Curren taking his first ride at J-Bay were forever etched in the author’s mind and associated with the ending of tyranny, indeed with freedom itself. The metaphor of South Africa’s waves opening up their faces to the world is both original and resonates on many levels.

The journey takes him from the beach breaks of France to the cold water of the Orkneys and Scotland's famous right hander at Thurso East. Further afield, he earns his spurs on waves ranging from Sri Lanka to Uluwatu in Indonesia.

There are many stories of obsession down the ages. Examples include Ahab's search for Moby Dick or Marlow's journey up the Congo in search of the charismatic Kurz in Heart of Darkness. However, this book doesn't contain the depth of horror often seen in such works and those inspired by them like Apocalypse Now or more recently The Beach and for those looking for emotional gore, there may be disappointment.

Instead, this book is more akin to the epic adventure stories. In these, the traditional hero hears the call to adventure and in answering it embarks upon a journey which ultimately rewards him with enlightenment. These range from the travels of Odysseus to those described in The Alchemist and The Little Prince. The two most interesting parts of the book come when the writer is facing one of his greatest fears: inability to surf. So, in Mundaka, it takes him a number of trips to even see a single wave and when it finally does happen, he smashes his board. This was all the more so when the writer broke his leg and ended up supporting his girlfriend on a surf trip which included Pavones in Costa Rica. It was here that the real enlightenment came and for me, the best bit of the book, when he described how he came to understand the value of the gifts his father's generation had given him through the hours they had spent teaching him about surf lore and wisdom: “These patient characters had sat there for hours on end, without needing an injury to keep them from wanting to surf themselves, filming kids for no other reason than handing the gift of wave knowledge on through the generations.” In this respect, it is similar to that which makes Fever Pitch such a great football story in that it highlights the fact that it is in the difficult times that the real character of the surfer or the football fan takes its form. A small point is that it is perhaps a shame that the issue of the son taking on the father’s mantle and the relationship to the preceding generation was not explored in more detail.

As for the arrival at J-Bay, the ending is possibly a little too perfect and rose-tinted although given the honesty with which the obsession had thus far been set out, the author may understandably be forgiven. However, these are quibbles. The stories are thoughtfully told with a light humour that makes them interesting both for surfers and non-surfers alike. The broken leg and the months of contemplation add the necessary grit to the oyster to take it beyond merely a good travelogue and to inspiring thoughts as to what it is about this sport which touches our souls. It was a real pleasure to read and a welcome addition to an area with very few well written books.


Dr Michelle Tempest said...

very good

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