Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Stealing the Wave, Drift Magazine

The following appeared in issue 3 of Drift Magazine.

Book Review of ‘Stealing the Wave’ by Andy Martin (Bloomsbury, 2007)

If you say Mount Everest, you might think of Hilary and Tensing. Say Waimea Bay in Hawaii and many surfers may well think of Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo. Almost certainly so after reading Stealing the Wave. However, theirs was not a mutual endeavour built on complementary skills. On the contrary, these two big wave riders were sworn enemies whose final tragic showdown in the cold water of Mavericks ended in death.

This book is the account of the rise and fall of these two great surfers. Bradshaw, whose character was carved from the rock of his native Texas, single-minded in his ascetic pursuit of dominating Waimea. Foo, the fun-loving, jonny come lately publicity hound who became the face of big wave riding. Bradshaw, the humourless enforcer who believed that nothing good came without prolonged effort. Foo, the entrepreneur, stealing in and taking the credit. Bradshaw, the dour rule-maker. Foo, the glamour boy breaking the rules. Bradshaw, the past. Foo, the future. Shadow and light.

Andy Martin presents us with two such strong and yet extremely different characters that it leaves the reader being able to identify most of the world as either a Foo or a Bradshaw. Andy Martin himself, a Cambridge academic whose first surf book Walking on Water was mostly about surfing in Hawaii is, I suspect, a Foo. This has a particular resonance at the moment with politics sitting at a watershed and very clear analogies to be made. Tony Blair is as clearly a Foo as Gordon Brown is a Bradshaw. Here there is perhaps a lesson. For just as Brown and Blair will be forever identified by their rivalry so it is with Foo and Bradshaw. What perhaps both pairings failed to realise was that much of their power and creativity came from the intense rivalry. The grit in the oyster. When Foo died, this was lost for good and perhaps not surprisingly in these circumstances, there is little that we have heard from Bradshaw since. Gordon Brown may well take note.

Worse still in the case of Foo is that it left a cloud over Bradshaw as to his alleged involvement in Foo’s demise. However, even though a suggestion is aired, one is left with the clear impression that the author doesn’t buy into any conspiracy theories or see it as anything other than a tragic accident. Certainly that was this writer’s view having read the book. One also feels that the author continues to view the great Bradshaw with enormous admiration, albeit tinged with pity for the sacrifices he has made along the way.

This is a book about the dark side of the human soul. Of suffering, jealousy and rivalry driven by naked ambition. It is a story that rises above surfing just as Touching the Void rose above mountaineering. It is a page-turning book of adventure and daring-do which goes much further than the usual efforts and leaves the reader with moral questions about the meaning of surfing, courage, risk-taking and ultimately life itself.

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