Once started it is almost impossible to put this book down again, you want to go on reading, it takes you along, not in the sense that you want to know what the end of the story is, no, it’s to do with wanting to be in it, live it. The story telling is breathtaking. It’s about a teenager, growing up in a very small town, a mill town, which is far enough from the sea that he learns to swim in the river ‘like everyone else’. But even though the sea is miles away, it is there, in the smell and the sounds and the hum of the earth. Bruce Pike is a bit of an outsider, who falls in with Loonie, who ‘liked everything with an edge on it’ and this is where the story takes off, the two of them becoming hooked on surfing, falling in with grown-ups whose obsession is surfing and mastering ever higher and more daring waves. But this is not just a book about surfing and adventure, it is about growing up and making decisions and doing things that are on the fringe and being taken in and along with people who are outsiders themselves, ‘hippies’, who happen to live there but are not part of the community. Being an only child, Bruce (or Pikelet as he is called) is at times lonely, not really part of his community and neither are their new found friends, Sando and Eva, who in their own ways use the boys as much as the boys use the opportunities they provide.
The use of language is in tune with the story, the frightening prospect of ‘mastering’ ever more dangerous waves of the coast is given in sparse and icy language and fear is palpable:
Only when the first new wave arrived did I see what really lay before us. It came in at an angle, just a hard ridge of well, but within a few seconds, as it found shallow water; it became so engorged as to triple in volume. And there at its feet lay the great hump of rock that gave the place its name. The mass of water foundered a moment, distorting as it hit the submerged obstacle. The wave reared as though climbing the obstruction and then sagged drastically at each end before the yawning lip pitched forward with a sound that made me want to shit.
Fifteen foot, said Loonie.
In the end it is only Pikelet who will attempt this particular wave, with Sando, as Loonie breaks his arm and cannot go, on the day that the waves coming in are just right, before a storm. That is also the beginning of their growing apart, as Loonie does not forgive this, knowing that he is the better surfer, the more daring one and he eventually becomes closer to Sando, is taken on trips, and Pikelet is left behind. Then there is the sudden ‘challenge’ posed by Eva and the Pikelet’s growing up in more ways than one. Choices and rejections are so much part of becoming an adult and this book is mesmerising in the way it traces this growing up into an adulthood that will forever be grounded in those crucial years, when life poses challenges that are irresistible, and which nevertheless lead to a realisation of limits, ultimately, that one lives with and must accept. This is a very well written book, and I would have liked to read more, but then realised that the story had been told. I highly recommend it. And no, I don’t think I can shelve it in any of my reading challenges, simply enjoyed the book for its own sake!