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Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth [Hardcover]

Chris Dixon
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2012
Rising from the depths of the North Pacific lies a fabled island, now submerged just 15 feet under the surface of the ocean. A sailor will tell you to avoid Cortes Bank at all cost, the treacherous seamount can destroy a hull without warning. A fisherman will tell you that the bank is a lost Eden teeming with enormous abalone, lobsters and shark. A diver might spin an unbelievable yarn about a giant shit that lies just beneath the surf in gin clear water. But a big wave surfer will tell you that Cortes Bank produces the biggest ride-able wave on the face of the earth. In this dramatic work of narrative non-fiction New York Times journalist Chris Dixson unlocks the secrets of Cortes Bank and embarks on his own odyssey alongside the hellmen and crazies who have tried their luck there and narrowly lived to tell the tale. Dixon's meticulously researched, entirely authentic story pulls the reader into the harrowing world of big wave surfing and high seas adventure above the most enigmatic and dangerous rock in the entire ocean. The true story of this Everest of the Pacific will thrill anyone with an abiding curiosity of and respect for, Mother Ocean.

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Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth + The Wave: In Pursuit of the Oceans' Greatest Furies
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (1 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811876284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811876285
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"If you are looking for a great read that tells a story of utter devotion to the ocean, its mysteries, and its dangers, then Ghost Wave...is definitely the book for you... This is definitely a book for anyone wanting to get a grasp on the unpredictable oceans and see into the terrifying yet exhilarating lives of big wave surfers." -PlanetSave

About the Author

Chris Dixon's work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine and Surfer's Journal among other publications.

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3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting once it gets going 8 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book cannot make its mind up about being a book about big wave surfing, or a book about the cortes bank. I really wish the author had focused on the surfing element more because that was fascinating stuff. The storied tale of Cortes, to me at least, was less so. A slight shift in emphasis would have produced for a me a more enjoyable read.

That said, once it gets into the big wave surfing tale it's enthralling. There are some enjoyable side swipes at 'The Wave' by casey, which I enjoyed (both the book and the swipes) and a slightly more nuanced presentation of the big wave riding than one would noramlly see. As the author points out, big wave srufing is (by the standards of 'extreme' sports) quite safe. To my mind this makes his description of the surfers and their work all the more compelling. I cannot view them as modern day dragon slayers, but when they are presented as extraordinarily committed athletes, pushing the edge of their abilities, they are far more compelling.

I'd recommend the book, but skip the first quarter!
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  95 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sitting on top of the world 24 Sep 2011
By Ken McCormick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I live in the middle of the U.S. and my balance is poor. In other words, I don't surf. But I love to watch and read about people who do. To me, surfing is the most beautiful sport on the planet. A well-executed ride is both a work of art and a wonder of nature.

The book is subtitled, "The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth." The book certainly presents about all that is known about the history of Cortes Bank and its unusual geography. But the book is also about big-wave surfing and the colorful cast of characters that it attracts.

Cortes Bank is treacherous for passing ships because it is essentially an underwater island. The extremely deep ocean floor suddenly rises up, and that is why Cortes generates what are possibly the biggest waves on Earth. The waves are unpredictable. Worse yet, it is not close to land, so there is no reference point on the horizon. It is easy to get disoriented.

One theme that runs through the book is the danger of big-wave surfing, even for veteran surfers. The book is punctuated with stories about the deaths of superb surfers. The danger raises the question about the ethics of popularizing big-wave surfing. One constant of human nature is our tendency to overrate our abilities. And there are always cowboys drawn to danger like a moth to a flame. Surfers who overate their own skills could easily die attempting to ride a monster wave.

The larger the wave, the harder it is to paddle to it because big waves travel faster than small ones. The book addresses the use of jet-skis to tow surfers to the wave. Paddle-surfing is pristine and environmentally friendly. Tow-surfing introduces machines burning gas and oil and spewing noxious fumes. Do the machines fundamentally alter the sport? Plus the jet-skis are dangerous to paddlers.

The book contains a large number of vignettes about a veritable who's who of big-wave surfing. They help to humanize the story.

I read an advanced copy and noticed a few errors, such as confusing "ancestor" and "descendant." I expect the errors will be corrected before publishing the final version.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ride of the Century 22 Nov 2011
By NyiNya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you spend any time sailing along the California coast, you may have heard about The Cortes Bank. It lies just past Catalina Island. Not a big patch of ocean, but one that boaters view with respect. It's where the giant waves live. Rogue waves are known to occur randomly, and certain coastal areas are known for impossibly high surf. But the Cortes Bank is different. In the middle of nowhere, in the open sea, huge waves, some reaching 90 feet high, are formed...and they're not an anomaly, they're a regular event. Listening to tales of the Cortes Bank while relaxing on deck is the sailing equivalent of sitting around the campfire and listening to stories of those two hitchhikers and the guy with the hook. Guaranteed to make the hair on your arms go all feathery.

Chris Dixon takes us into the heart of the Cortes Bank and shows us what it's like not just to face the monster, but tweak its nose.

All surfing is madness. Surfers sit on their boards, legs dangling in the water, looking just like dinner to every circling shark...and that's before they start doing the dangerous stuff. There are so many ways to injure, maim, cripple and kill yourself on a surfboard, it almost beggars the imagination to understand why some surfers seek to up the ante. But they do...in the form of giant waves. Waves so high you could hide an apartment building in one. The only sensible part is that, for the most part, giant wave surfing is done close to shore, where (in theory) help is close at hand. The surfers who choose Cortes Bank are surfing in the open ocean. They are tempting the pelagic sharks, giant ocean-going predators, as well as the little maneaters who cling to the shoreline, not to mention fate. If they are churned to the bottom by countless tons of water collapsing above them, they aren't likely to come up again.

The world has two kinds of people in it: Surfers and people who wish they were. Dixon's book gives those of us who watch and envy those slender figures sitting out where the waves form a chance to live in their skin for a few magical, terrifying, exhilarating moments. There are minutes on end when I lost track of time and place. I was there, I could smell the ocean, that magical clean briny scent, I could feel the cold wind on my face and feel the stinging spray, the chill of the water. Bobbing on my surfboard, butterflies in my stomach, waiting to be elevated higher and higher and higher before sliding down, down, down...it's as close as I'll ever get to the experience, which fills me with relief and regret.

Ghost Wave takes you out there to the Cortes Bank. Dixon tells us the history and background of the area, and shows us just what it feels like to challenge Poseidon and whatever other gods and monsters inhabit that haunted piece of ocean.

If you surf, or only wish you did, this book is a thriller, an e-ticket ride that will leave you breathless and exhilarated.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars BEST FOR THE HARD CORE SURFING ENTHUSIAST 20 Oct 2011
By ireadabookaday - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have a casual interest in books and movies on surfing, and I read most of what comes out on this topic. This book is probably not going to appeal to the general interest reader.

Despite the title, it is more than just a study of one surfing break. It aims to cover the history of surfing, and particularly the rise of big wave and tow-in surfing. Perhaps the author was a little too ambitious, as this has resulted in a book that veers between depth and superficiality.The author very nearly lost me early on in the exhaustively tediously?) detailed chapter 2, but then skips around the world to cover other surf spots and introduces a large cast of characters that is hard to keep straight. The author obviously wanted to cram in everything he learned, however tangentially related, but there are too many distractions from the main topic, and the narrative just gets bogged down.

The obvious comparison here is Casey's "The Wave" . She did a good job of bringing together all sorts of
themes and information into one readable narrative, but Dixon didn't manage that feat. The history of surfing is covered too superficially for those looking for that , but a reader with a strong interest in the history of the Cortes Bank will likely find it interesting.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 4 stars if you are interested in a history of big wave surfing, 2 stars if you were looking for just about anything else 25 Dec 2011
By ARH - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Chris Dixon's book, "Ghost Wave" leads off with an interesting maritime history of the Cortes Bank, a submerged island about 100 miles west of Baja, Mexico, and south of the Channel Islands of Southern California. This description accompanied by work done to try to detail its location, bottom topography and oceanographic significance - I found this information to be very interesting.

I seemed to have heard someplace that the USN aircraft carrier "Enterprise" had some kind of grounding incident, and that was at the Cortes Bank. Read all about it here...well, as much as there is to read about it anywhere in the public domain.

Later on you read about a failed attempt to turn this submerged island into an artificial island via a hair-brained scheme of sinking a ship out there...

At least the last half of the book, however, is devoted to the introduction of the main players in the world of big wave surfing, starting with paddle surfers and then later tow surfers. This introduction went well beyond an overview by getting into the politics of who is working for which surfing magazine and who gets to shoot which surfing outings, and which surfers are in and which are out when it comes to mounting big wave expeditions. About this time you are introduced to many of the premier big wave spots around the world (Jaws, Mavericks, etc.). And all of this is leading up to a blow-by-blow account of a, well, mostly insane decision to take an expedition out there in the middle of a major storm to see if they could surf the Cortes Bank in an effort to find and ride a 100' wave.

Did they do it? You'll have to read the book to find out.

This is an interesting addition to the recent literature being released about the history and future of surfing. Some titles worth looking into if you are interested in surfing you might want to give these titles a look: Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread from Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, with Some Unexpected Results, and The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. The latter title is devoted less to surfing than the former, but surfing does come up.

All in all, as I mentioned in my header for this review, I'd give this book 4 stars if you are looking for a book on big wave surfing, but about 2 stars if you are looking for anything else. Thus, 3 stars.

I hope this was helpful.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "He's Going to Die" 16 Nov 2011
By Eileen Granfors - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Chris Dixon's "Ghost Wave" is an adventure story wrapped in surf tales and the physics of the sea. The watchers of the big wave riders are mesmerized by the feeling that the surfer is surely going to die (as some have).

Dixon looks specifically at the history of surfing at the Cortes Banks, where waves break in the middle of the ocean. These are not rogue waves. These are waves that have raced across the Pacific, building speed and power, until they meet the shallows near the islands of the Cortes Banks.

The use of tow-in jet skis centers the arguments between the natural surfers and the big wave surfers. Before jet skis, no one could ride these waves, lacking the paddle power to reach the crest. The jet skis can whip a surfer into the right position, and better, there is someone to rescue the surfer after a wipeout.

Nevertheless, not all waves are meant to be ridden. The controversy of adding a fuel-driven, noisy engine into a sport that had a zen-like connection between man and nature is a matter of philosophical intent. And the introduction of big money, "Who can ride the biggest wave?" puts novice, greedy surfers in conditions even the experts fear.

"Ghost Wave" produces the science, the mystery, and the adrenaline junkie highs of surfing. The chapter about Abalonia, a colony state some dreamers thought up, would make a fine comedy with an edge.

This is a book for people who are awed by the ocean, love our planet, and wonder how films of one man against a 90 foot wave come to be made.
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