STEALING THE WAVE: the epic struggle between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo
Published by Bloomsbury in 2007, UK and USA
I had been visiting Hawaii off and on for years after Walking on Water. One of the things I noticed is that the waves it was possible to surf kept on getting bigger (even though there was an element of inflation involved, they really were bigger). And the other thing was that people I knew kept on dying. There was no necessary connection between the two, but it occurred to me at some point that I had better get down some of the stories
about the people I knew there while there were still a few of them left. But I couldn’t just write a sequel to Walking on Water. I was a little older if not necessarily wiser. And it seemed to me there was a darker side to do with the struggle between human beings and not just between wave and human that I had largely neglected in the earlier work.
Stealing is the story of a triangular love-hate relationship between Ken Bradshaw and Mark Foo and the ocean. They had once been heroes of mine. I wasn’t sure if I had heroes any more. But still it seemed to me that the great duel between them was worthy of that over-used epithet, ‘epic’. They were/are both masters of the art of big-wave surfing. But it struck me that there was something universal in the story of an antagonism
that evolved into ambivalent friendship and ended in tragedy. Some of the information in the book I already knew. But I had to do a lot of research, in Hawaii and the mainland, to try and get the record straight. So thanks to all my interviewees and everyone else who helped me out and put up with my endless questions. And – I was going to make some derogatory remark about the guy I flew several thousand miles to meet and who turned out to have vamoosed by the time I got there. But the truth is: sometimes not knowing some things is good for a writer and for the book. You can have too
much information. This is not an encyclopedia of data about Foo and Bradshaw – it is only, in the end, a set of impressions I had of them. There is inevitably a subjective swerve to the writing. Perhaps the triangle was more Foo and Bradshaw and me.
What it says on the flap:
‘In a mid-eighties winter two surfers are battling for supremacy at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Hawaii. This is surfing’s spiritual home, where some of the biggest, most awesome waves in the world crash on to the shore. Ken Bradshaw is old-school, a muscular, square-jawed Texan. He commands respect with a combination of strength, gritty determination and fearsome temper.
Mark Foo is the new kid on the block. Icon of the young generation, this slim, photogenic Chinese-American has prowess, speed, moves, looks, and thirst for the biggest waves. He is the young gun openly challenging Bradshaw’s old guard. With a sharp eye for a marketing angle and a magazine cover, Foo is taking surfing in a new and more commercial direction… and is the antithesis of everything Bradshaw believes in. One perfect day at Sunset Beach, the two surfers are in the water when Foo audaciously steals a wave right from right under Bradshaw’s nose, sparking a bitter feud that is to last for over ten years and end in tragedy. In the spirit of Norman Mailer’ The Fight and Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void, Stealing the Wave is not just the story of a legendary sporting rivalry. It gets to the core of what it means to compete, and examines what happens when competition, passion and belief become obsession.’ This represented a breakthrough book for me: it was the first time any reviewer used the word ‘awesome’.