Reviewed by Nina Longfield
Hound of the Sea by Garrett McNamara is a memoir that delves into the hypnotic draw of big wave surfing. This book, however, is also a look back to an unconventional childhood. McNamara was born at the tail end of the flower power era with parents who embraced the concepts of peace, love, sex, drugs, and communal experimentation. Throughout his memoir, McNamara dips into his past sharing vignettes of memories. Using his own recollections as well as stories he heard from others, McNamara creates a picture of a boy with an unconventional childhood growing into a man with an exceptional occupation.
McNamara begins Hound of the Sea in his toddling years with a story he had heard but admits not remembering. He was the child of carefree parents and lived his unconventional childhood seeking escape and adventure. The first part of the memoir focuses on McNamara’s growth. McNamara takes the reader on a winding journey from Stockbridge in Massachusetts to Berkeley, California to a commune in Sonoma County and back to Berkeley. His travels with various members of his family, or in some cases with family acquaintances, take him through Mexico, Central America, and the American west before boarding a plane to Hawaii. This unstructured upbringing frees the McNamara brothers, Garret and his brother Liam, to fend for themselves and experiment with rules. School was, in their opinion, an option and not mandatory. Being caught skipping school at their young age, the boys are introduced to sports, first baseball then surfing, to teach them some discipline that their parents seemed unable to provide but also to keep them out of trouble.
It is the introduction to sports and rules that begin to shape McNamara’s life as he moves from boy into pre-adolescence. He enjoys baseball for the precision and teamwork but he loves riding bikes, skateboards, and surfboards for the challenge and a different approach to sportsmanship. It is in Hawaii where the McNamara brothers are introduced to the sport of surfing. Part two of Hound of the Sea shows how Garret McNamara’s love for surfing grows to obsession and his progress from amateur to professional.
The third part of this memoir moves into the big waves and Garrett McNamara’s search for his purpose in life. Here, McNamara shares his draw for the challenges of big wave surfing and some reasons behind why someone would do something so extreme. McNamara does not gloss over the danger of his chosen career. He is graphic with the details of sustained injuries acquired while surfing. He is also straightforward regarding the long-term results of sustained oxygen deprivation and wave poundings he has endured.
Hound of the Sea is a fascinating look at big wave surfing and a glance into the mind of a surfer, but this is also a reflection on an unconventional upbringing. McNamara’s memoir is well written drawing the reader into his story and captivating the reader through the action. One does not have to be a surfer or even a sports enthusiast to enjoy Hound of the Sea. This is a memoir about growth. I would recommend Garrett McNamara’s memoir to any who enjoys a story with good character development and lots of action.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Harper Wave. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.