Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Waves

I have a certain fascination with gravity. I like to see how things orbit, fall and roll. Waves are one of those things that roll. Today, I'd like to talk about the really big waves. You know, like Mavericks.

After seeing Strapped: The Origins Of Tow-in Surfing, I have a newfound respect for surfers. I am not a surfer, but I have always respected surfers as people who are intimately connected to the Earth. They understand the rhythm of the Earth, much like the farmers do, but in an entirely different context. Strapped raises my respect for surfers in new ways and provides ample eye candy in form of giant waves and the surreal contrast in scale. Imagine a wave that looks normal in every way, but nothing gives it scale until you see this tiny guy on a surfboard, on a gigantic wave. That's what we see in Strapped.

I have known a few surfers throughout my life and have found them to be calm, relaxed, and generally at ease with themselves. The only thing that seems to matter to them is current surf conditions. I know this because years ago, I was working a construction job in Newport Beach. I had to meet with the building engineer who happened to be a surfer. After we exchanged greetings for the morning, he took a deep draw of air through his nose, exhaled and said, "Hmmm. Smells like the wind is offshore today. I think I'll go surfing after work."

Strapped, shows us how the technology of the day has been adapted for use at places where big waves crest. At Mavericks, for example, waves often crest at 25 feet or more and waves as big as 80 feet have been witnessed. Strapped teaches us how they adapted the hydrofoil to the surfboard, creating a nearly frictionless glider that can keep up with the large waves.

The pioneers who figured out how to surf the really big waves learned how to adapt the hydrofoil to the surf board. The foilboard allows a surfer to glide on the wave with much less friction than a typical surf board because at certain speeds, the hydrofoil lifts the surfboard out of the water. With the board out of the water, surface contact between the board and the water is about a tenth of what it would be if the board were in contact with the water while riding.

Strapped also illustrates how jet skis can be used to rescue surfers in peril, quickly. With a 25 foot wave coming, getting in to rescue a downed surfer and getting out quick is not easy swimming by hand. A jet ski makes short work of this effort.

Strapped reminds me of the power of gravity, the weakest force of the four known forces of the universe (the others are the weak, strong and electromagnetic forces). The tidal forces at work to create the waves on the water don't seem like much at waters edge. But two miles out at Mavericks, the waves easily demonstrates how much power is at work as the Earth and the moon do their dance.

So if you're looking for a good surf movie, with some mechanics and science behind the craft, Strapped is a great film to watch.
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