Best selling author Susan Casey risks it all to learn about the world’s greatest enigma: its oceans
The preeminent chronicler of our oceans, author Susan Casey has put herself in danger a few times while researching her books. For 2005’s The Devil’s Teeth, she lived on a sailboat in the shark infested waters off the rugged Farallon Islands.
While working on 2010’s The Wave, she hitched a ride on the back of a jet ski with famed big wave surfer Laird Hamilton and rocketed down a 50-foot wave.
But it was on a sunny day at Killers, a famed surf spot 10 miles off Baja Mexico’s Ensenada, that Casey got momentarily rattled by the ocean’s power. While sitting on the deck of a boat observing surfers riding 20 to 30 foot waves, a rogue wave of what Casey says was 60 to 70 feet high rolled in.
“I described it as an eagle screaming in through a pack of chickens,” Casey says on a phone call from New York’s Hudson Valley.
The wave was so large that it broke in a unique way.
“When a wave gets that big, it did something that I’ve never seen a wave do before and that is it hung like a vertical wall for a second,” Casey says.
While that giant wave did create a moment of anxiety, Casey says being around the immense power of the ocean usually creates something else for her.
“First of all, I have a deep respect for the ocean, but I don’t find it scary,” she says. “I kind of find it awesome and terrifying at the same time, which is the definition of sublime. I really love being around things that are sublime in nature.”
A longtime competitive swimmer, Casey found her niche as a bestselling author detailing the marine world with The Devil’s Teeth. She says she learned about the desolate archipelago while watching a BBC documentary about great white sharks while being delirious with mononucleosis.
That led to an obsession with the rarely visited site. “I just could not believe there was this place,” she says. “It looked like the wildest place I had ever seen in my life and it was within the San Francisco area code 415 technically.”
Her latest exploration of the ocean’s unique pull is The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean, a book about the deep sea and the explorers who plunge into its depths. For the work, she joined deep sea explorer Victor Vescovo for a dive in a submersible down to 16,800 feet into the Pacific Ocean.
“That experience was the highlight of my life,” she says.
Casey has choice words about the tragic trajectory of the Titan sub that garnered extensive news coverage in June. “The Titan was an unsafe submersible from the get-go,” she says. “From concept to execution, it was unsafe every step along the way.”
As for her deep-sea journey, the author describes the eight-hour journey in the sub in the sort of language usually reserved for a religious or psychedelic experience. “It was spiritually immense because when you are down there you really get a sense of our place in the world,” Casey says. “I happen to really like the fact that nature is so much greater than we are. It’s one of the things that makes me the happiest.”