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Under the Wave at Waimea


Under the Wave at Waimea

Joe “The Shark” Sharkey is a legend in the world of surfing. He has traveled the world looking for the big one --- that 100-foot wave. Yet his decades-old records still stand. Now his popular T-shirts, hats and posters that once adorned the front windows of beachside surf shops have become collector’s items. At age 62, his entourage has shrunk to the local Oahu northern beaches as big-money sponsors seek out the younger set.

When a minor foot injury sidelines him for a few days, Joe and his live-in girlfriend, Olive, go to a local bar. After a few too many, they head home in a drenching rainstorm, and he fatally strikes an unidentified homeless man on a pushbike. Found not at fault, Joe continues to refer to him only as that drunk homeless guy. He turns ever deeper to the surfer world’s substance of choice, marijuana, known locally as pakalolo, and tokes his way into a downward spiral. Olive drags the reluctant Joe back to the mainland to learn the victim's identity.

"UNDER THE WAVE AT WAIMEA is an absorbing and redemptive love story of a desolate soul set in one of Earth’s most beautiful locales."

Theroux’s vivid, eloquent prose helped rescue me from my pandemic funk as he takes Joe on a deep dive into his childhood as an army brat. The privileged son of an Army Colonel during the Vietnam War, he had moved from one army base to another all over the world. An American base in Hawaii seemed like coming home. Surfing and its laidback style draws him in, which results in him getting kicked out of the posh private school to which his father’s status entitled him. In public high school, he becomes a haole --- a designation in those days akin to a Black person in an all-white town, but in reverse. He turns to surfing to fit in and drops out of high school to hang in the schoolyard smoking pakalolo with the local native surfers.

UNDER THE WAVE AT WAIMEA is an absorbing and redemptive love story of a desolate soul set in one of Earth’s most beautiful locales. Joe has lived all of his adult life as a famous yet hollow man. He basks in the glory with the same notoriety as a rock star --- getting away with behaviors that would put the average guy in jail, if not worse. During his life journey, he befriends Hunter Thompson near the end of that colorful character’s life. Theroux has created a fresh, at times exciting and adventurous, then pitiable lost soul in Joe Sharkey. Olive, the love of his life, stands by him and nurtures him back from the brink.

Surfing is not necessarily an interest of mine, but as an armchair traveler, Theroux’s vivid travel books have lured me to many exotic locales in the past. I have read a number of his novels, some of which have been adapted for the big and small screens (the latest is the just-released Apple TV+ series, “The Mosquito Coast,” starring his nephew, Justin Theroux), so I trusted him on this one.

This landlubber’s one encounter with ocean waves is limited to a misadventure as I paddled near a raft in a rented mask and flippers when a mild swell dumped seawater down my snorkel tube, sending me spluttering to safety on a Caribbean cruise. This time, I was swept away by waves of emotion as Joe Sharkey’s life plays out on the pages, and he reaches out to grasp reality and restore his sanity.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on May 8, 2021

Under the Wave at Waimea
by Paul Theroux

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0358697387
  • ISBN-13: 9780358697381