Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chasing Dean by Tom Anderson

Dean, in case you were wondering, was a hurricane - a monster of nature that, in 2007, threatened the eastern Seaboard of the USA. Tom Anderson (the author) and Marc Rhys are a couple of surfers from Porthcawl, Wales, who set out to track Dean's turbulent progress and ride the Grade A waves that it sent ashore.

In pursuit of the hurricane the intrepid duo cruise the east coast in a clapped out Ford Escort Estate, obsessively studying meteorological bulletins. Something as seemingly mundane as the weather is impressively transformed by Anderson into a source of compelling interest. I never realised that the formation of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic could be quite so spellbinding.

Sensitive to the karmic potential of nature a visit is, early, paid to New Orleans to survey the apocalyptic damage visited upon that city by hurricane Katrina. In fact the "precarious relationship between pleasure and the earth's wrath" is never far from the author's mind as he wrestles with the moral ambiguity of their chosen adventure. Is it right, he ponders, to gain hedonistic pleasure from a phenomenon that can wipe out entire cities?

The relationship between the two surfers develops nicely during the course of their journey, undergoing subtle changes as they get into various scrapes. Their contrasting personalities aids this process. Marc is rational, scientific and a natural sceptic; Tom is intuitive and much more laid back. Marc's keener sense of his Welshness makes for some comic moments as he struggles to come to terms with your average American's total ignorance of Wales.

Chasing Dean's narrative drive, much like surfing itself, builds slowly, before reaching a glorious crescendo. As a travel book it is Kerouacian in spirit - it has a beat sensibility. This is, after all, as much a road trip as a surfing expedition. The downbeat romance of life on the road: meeting new characters, and experiencing new places, is adroitly captured. As is the flipside - that perpetual restlessness that forces the traveller to always move on.

No specialist knowledge is required here – you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy this book. Anderson’s enthusiasm for his subject carries the reader along in its wake, and by the end of their odyssey you will know exactly what to do should you ever encounter mung while looking for the perfect tube.

*Chasing Dean by Tom Anderson is published by Summersdale and is on sale now. It's a great summer read.