On a cold, bright February day in 1999, Sarah Gerhardt became the first woman to surf Mavericks, the legendary big-wave surf break in Half Moon Bay, California. Writer and surfer Bonnie Tsui chronicled the legendary day Sarah met her first big wave in a new children’s book out today — Sarah and the Big Wave.
The praise from reviewers continues to roll in. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said:
“A determined young woman seizing the moment in vast, teal-blue ocean is a natural draw, and with the IOC adding surfing to its roster of events, librarians can expect extra interest when the next Olympic games are played.”
USA Surfing caught up with author Bonnie Tsui to talk about the book, why she wrote it and what she wants those new to surfing to know about the sport and lifestyle making its Olympic debut this Summer.
Bonnie interviewed Olympic surfers Caroline Marks, Carissa Moore, Kolohe Andino, Coach Brett Simpson and medical director Kevyn Dean for a Popular Science feature about the science, technology and sports medicine innovations in surfing as it makes its Olympic debut. She’s an incredible writer and ambassador for surfing and the ocean.
Whether you surf or not, you’ll love what Bonnie has to say about surfing, writing books and observing surfers interacting with nature and each other.
If you surf, you’re really in for a treat. For example, follow some of the links in her answers and your pre-dawn surfs will take on new meaning.
You can impress your friends by knowing the difference between astronomical dawn and civil dawn.
She shows us how surfing at dawn mimics the reentry into a changed new world that continues to make itself visible.
Q. What’s special about this book being released at this time?
A. This winter has been an extraordinary big-wave season at Mavericks, especially for female surfers, and with equal pay in effect on the WSL tour, Maya Gabeira surfing the biggest wave surfed by anyone in 2020, and the world’s excitement for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, I’m just stoked that we have this gorgeous book telling the story of the day Sarah Gerhardt meets her first big wave at Mavericks.
The book also includes some of the milestones and little-known history of women and surfing.
Q. Why write a children’s book about big wave surfing?
A. This whole project was a big, wonderful surprise. Back in the fall of 2018, I wrote a cover story for California Sunday magazine about how Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, Andrea Moller, Emily Erickson, and Sarah were preparing for a season at Mavericks. A children’s book editor in New York saw the story and called me up to see if I’d ever thought about writing a kids’ book (thank you, Kate Farrell!). And so I did. It is an absolute gift that fell into my lap.
Q. What has the reaction been so far?
A. Amazing. Everyone I talk to about Sarah and the Big Wave wants to buy it for their kids, or their friends’ kids, or their library or school or surfing buddies.
I think a story about a girl conquering all the obstacles thrown her way to do the thing that brings her the most joy in the world is just the story we want and need to hear right now.
Q. Any surprises?
A. There’s a big, gorgeous surprise in the middle of the book but I won’t spoil it for you. But you’ll know it when you see it.
Q. What do you want budding writers to know about writing about surfing?
A. For me, one informs the other. Surfing is an exercise in preparation: being patient, recognizing the moment when it arrives, going for it when it does.
To be in the ocean is to be attentive and present. It’s practice in being attuned to the world around you. That’s what being a writer is, too.
Q. As more new audiences come to know surfing through the Olympics, what should they know about the sport and lifestyle?
A. I want more people to know that surfing can be for them, too. That the historic attitude that made a lot of folks feel excluded or unwelcome is not what the true spirit of surfing is.
The spirit of surfing is communal — you go out there respecting the ocean and its dangers, and the other people in the water with you. The ocean is open to all of us, and so is the invitation to dance on a wave.
Q. What’s your reaction to surfing’s Olympic debut?
A. I’m really looking forward to watching the world’s best surfers perform in Japan — the conditions at Shidashita may not be the most technically challenging that these surfers have ever experienced, but there are other reasons it’s super exciting. I spent some pre-Covid training time talking with Caroline Marks, Carissa Moore, Kolohe Andino, and Brett Simpson for a Popular Science story about all the new innovations shaping the sport and training in the lead-up to Tokyo.
The Olympic spotlight is pretty special, and I know this means a lot to athletes who have been waiting their whole lives to show the world what they can do.
Q. You’re a parent and a surfer — have your sons started surfing yet? Is surfing a good sport for parents to introduce their kids to?
A. My boys love the water. They are their happiest selves when bodysurfing in warm water and feeling how the ocean is somehow alive to them. They know Mama is a surfer, and they were the first ones to hear the story of Sarah and her big wave — my 8-year-old even made this hilarious and awesome stop-motion Lego animation for the book. My 10-year-old has surfed before, but the cold water in the Bay Area is a bit of a deterrent. That said, my friend just made them a beautiful wooden surfboard that is just their size. I can’t wait to see them on it.