Thursday, March 8, 2007

Riding the Magic Carpet, Drift Magazine

The following was published in issue 2 of Drift Magazine in February 2007

Book review of 'Riding the Magic Carpet’by Tom Anderson (Summersdale Publishing)

When Tom Curren first rode the right hand point break at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa, the world watched in awe. For the author it symbolised everything that was going on at the time. The ending of tyranny, the ride to freedom, the opening up of a new world. From that moment on, the image of that wave entered Tom Anderson’s mind and transformed itself in his imagination. Not only did it represent events half way across the world. It started to symbolise the ending of the petty tyrannies which he faced each day at his local school in South Wales.

As the years went by, the yearning to experience the wave for real took on greater significance until it became something of an obession. Every surf trip was undertaken with a justification at least in the back of his mind that it would take him one step closer to being able to paddle out at J-Bay. To some extent, it became a symbol of the author’s ambition, an end in itself. Ahab and his whale.

His travels took him from the beach breaks of France to the Orkneys and Thurso East and eventually further afield to Sri Lanka and Uluwatu. As is the case with all epic adventures, the hero accidentally stumbled upon self-enlightenment triggered most poigntantly through suffering. First it comes at the culmination of a number of frustrating trips to Mundaka where the wave just refuses to awaken. Then when finally it rises from its slumber the author’s board breaks. Worse still he later breaks his leg and has to endure a surf trip taking in Pavones in Costa Rica without even being able to paddle out. Perhaps it was a fear of being unable to surf. Or perhaps it was a deeper fear that if he couldn’t surf, he couldn’t pursue his ambition which had all been tied into J-Bay over the years.

As he went through the frustration of having to watch his girlfriend enjoy the waves, he slowly started to let go of his own ambition and appreciate the value of teaching, passing on. It is described almost as an epiphany and with it the cloud of ambition appeared slowly to lift. As it did, he reflected on his father’s generation and their own lack of selfishness: “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.”

Perhaps it was because he had actually let go of his ambition for its own sake, of his need for J-Bay, that he was eventually rewarded with the waves of which he had dreamed. Perhaps he would have made it anyway. Either way, it is this journey of enlightenment which takes the book from a very readable and entertaining travel book to something deeper. Yet if it is allegorical, it is with a touch light enough to carry it. No need for horror or a Mr Kurz in the jungle here. It’s from the simplicity of the everyday coupled with classic surf adventure that it derives its power. Definitely up there with the best in surf travel literature.

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