Books

Stealing the Wave: The Epic Struggle Between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo by Andy Martin

Michael Young
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

The ocean wasn't big enough for both of these surf hotshots; one had to die.


Stealing the Wave: The Epic Struggle Between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 1596913800
Author: Andy Martin
Price: $24.95
Length: 256
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-05
Amazon

The first face-to-face confrontation between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo in Andy Martin's fascinating but troubling book comes at Sunset Beach, Hawaii, one of the best known big-wave spots in the world, and one ruled by the no-nonsense Texan, Bradshaw.

It was a December morning, sunny, the waves running 10 to 12 feet and dwarfing anything Bradshaw ever saw in his early days surfing in Surfside, Texas. And Bradshaw was in the perfect spot, the result of almost fanatical study, discipline and experience. But as he prepared to launch himself in the wave, another surfer shot forward, the young, slightly built Mark Foo, or as Bradshaw saw it, the thief stealing his wave.

Bradshaw backed off, but the transgression couldn't be forgotten. Minutes later, as Foo waited for his next wave, Bradshaw slipped behind him, dumped him in the water and chopped off the three fins on Foo's board with the flat of his hand. Then he grabbed the board by the rail, opened his mouth and chomped down, through fiberglass and foam, tearing out a great chunk.

For Bradshaw, justice had been served. And in Stealing the Wave, a great feud was born.

Through the '80s and into the '90s, the rivalry endured between the solid, ascetic Texan for whom surfing was the only thing that mattered, and the flashy, publicity-hungry Foo, who saw surfing as a business opportunity.

Martin, an English-born writer, teacher and surfer and a regular visitor to Hawaii's North Shore, works mightily to depict Foo and Bradshaw as opposites in every way. Every wave becomes a war of style and values, pitting Foo's cutting-edge glitz against Bradshaw's stolid, old-school style.

Martin's obsession with these seeming opposites builds tension. But in the end, neither Foo nor Bradshaw emerges fully fleshed out, more pen-and-ink sketch than one of those stunningly detailed photos in the surf magazines.

Far more compelling is Martin's powerful prose detailing the dangers of surfing huge waves over reefs far from shore, and the sense of beauty and tranquility that surfers find within the maelstrom. He knows these waves, and the stretch of coastline along Oahu's northern shore and the surfers who inhabit it, and he describes it all beautifully. When Bradshaw finally staggers up the sand after one near-fatal wipeout, you can almost taste the sweet air that finally fills his lungs.

Unfortunately, Martin also writes intimately of conversations he didn't hear, situations he didn't witness, deep thoughts never spoken. A writer who attempts to pull off such audacity needs to build his story on a foundation of impeccable accuracy. But Martin slips often enough on small, seemingly inconsequential facts that you wonder what else might be inaccurate.

Several times, he refers to the University of Hawaii as Hawaii State University. At another point, in a brief history of big-wave riders at Waimea Bay, Martin lists Fred Van Dyke, "who went on to be a Republican governor." Van Dyke was indeed a legendary surfer and beloved teacher at the Punahou School in Honolulu. But he was no politician. Another surfing Fred, 1968 World Champion Fred Hemmings, ran for governor of Hawaii. He lost.

And perhaps most damaging of all, Martin's oil-and-water description of his leading men leaves no chance that the two will ever become friends. But they did travel together from sunny Hawaii to the cold, shark-infested waters of Northern California and a terrifying break called Mavericks.

The two men paddled out together, joining other big-wave surfers from around the world. Foo and Bradshaw traded waves and shared conversations, always competitors, but different now. About 11:30 a.m., a set of waves pushed up from the gray Pacific. Foo took off alone as the wave peaked over the rocky reef. He scrambled to his feet, his board hanging high up in the hollowing wave, and then he fell, pitching forward into the water. Then the wave caught him, pulling him up, over and down again. And then he was gone.

Two surfers caught the next wave and suffered similarly. The third wave was Bradshaw's, and he rode it with power, refusing to be bucked.

Later, someone spotted the tail of a broken board floating past, the leash trailing down into the dark water, still attached to Foo's body. Many blame Bradshaw.

Martin, his rivalry intact to the end, doesn't disagree.

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