In Waves

Created by: AJ Dungo

ISBN: 1910620637 (Amazon)

Pages: 368

In Waves

I grew up in surf culture, a son of the waves. My dad was a surfer (at age 73, he still surfs whenever he’s in town) and we lived a 2 minute walk from a point break and the sweetest left I’ve ever ridden. For all that, I’ve never surfed. I boogie boarded, skimboarded, skateboarded, and body-surfed, but in that way that kids can be tragic punk a-holes, I always demurred whenever my dad offered to teach me to surf. He would have loved to share his great passion with me but I was too much of a stubborn little ass to allow him that happiness (I think I subconsciously feared not being any good at it too). And now, of course, it’s far too late.

None of that childlike fussiness has stopped me, however, from appreciating surfing - or from understanding just how it feels to be out there in the line-up, anticipating the next set, enclosed deep in the green room, feeling that rush of jubilance when it spits you out again. As with Dungo at book’s end, I went out alone more often than not. It was a comfort and I look back on those days with fondness.

All that is to say that when I cracked open AJ Dungo’s book In Waves, I was happy to see another graphic novel devoted to surfing. I feel like they’re pretty rare. I’ve read two others, Pat Grant’s Blue, which focuses on surfing and immigration, and Kim Dwinell’s Surfside Girls, which is more of a ghost mystery with protagonists who also happen to be surfers. (Incidentally, while Grant is in Australia, both Dungo and Dwinell are local to Southern California, which makes me happy.) In Waves though may be the first I’ve read that is properly about surfing.

Or at least half of it is. Dungo skips back and forth in history, telling two stories. In earthen tones, he unspools the history of surfing, largely through two figures, Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake. In water tones, he speaks of love and loss, remembering his girlfriend Kristen who would die in 2016 at age 24 of cancer.

This is a fresh work of grieving, a tribute to a woman and to the sport she loved and shared (Dungo took up surfing himself despite a fear of the sea, inspired by Kristen). Whether intentionally or not (probably intentionally), Dungo sets up the pair of Duke and Blake as a reflection of Kristen and himself, with Duke and Kristen being these larger-than-life figures of passion and inspiration and Blake and himself seeking comfort from brokenness in the break. It’s a delicate work of simplicity and heart. It was worth my time and may be worth yours.

 

 

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