We are connected to waves of water, air and light in a myriad of ways. For many of us though it is the timeless and reassuring rhythm of the ocean that fires our imagination. Both friend and foe, ocean waves embody the energy imparted by wind and earth. Humans directly experience the power of waves through wave watching, surfing, swimming, storms and tsunamis. We capture, create and contemplate images and sounds of waves to forge connections in a different way. As a measure of human ingenuity, the power of waves is now also being used for renewable energy production. Using the form of a photo essay, this post explores ocean waves through their varied elemental expressions – water, wind, earth(quakes), fire (energy) and consciousness.
The Great Wave of Kanagawa would have to be the most recognised and reproduced artistic representation of a wave in the world. It was created as a wood block by Katsushika Hokusai around 1830 and was very popular on its release. Perhaps the enduring appeal of this image is the way it captures the dynamic and fleeting interplay of water, wind, wood, fire, earth and the human spirit. Source: Wikipedia.
In his book ‘Wind on the Water’ Jack Finlay describes surfing as a spectrum between the physical and the mental. In his words, surfing “At one extreme is an expanse of open ocean over which the wind blows, imparting energy. At the other is a state of mind, a way of seeing things.” In the book he tries to express what it means to give over a fair degree of his life to the eternal (elemental) energy of the ocean.
Surfing, with it’s intimate connection to the elements, has become a popular pastime and sport in no small part thanks to Duke Kahanamoku from Hawaii. Here surfers are waiting to catch a wave at Waikiki beach where the Duke developed his surfing and swimming skills. At the time of first white contact, everyone surfed in Hawaii. Imagine that. This heritage would have flowed through the Duke’s veins.
Watching and listening to ocean waves can illicit many feelings depending on their size, location and intensity. These gentle waves at sunset can give a great sense of calmness. Videos that capture the sound and movement of the waves can add considerably to this feeling. The fundamental connections that our brains have with water, as explored by Wallace J. Nicholls in The Blue Mind, helps explain the impact of waves on our consciousness and sub-conciousness.
Waves are not always calm, especially those associated with earthquakes. The energy from the 2004 tsunami generated in the Indian Ocean was immense and terrifying for those in its path. It represented the elements at their extreme. The tsunami was the most devastating ever recorded with around 300,000 people estimated to have died. Many countries were impacted and the recovery will be a long process. Tsunami warning systems have since been put in place to avoid such loss of life in the future. This image is from a video produced by Geo TV. With new technology such as smart phones more ‘real time’ images like this one have become available.
Waves can take you by surprise in other ways. I have strong memories of travelling from this mesmerising fjord in Greenland to the ‘confused seas’ off the coast. It seemed like the waves were going in every direction and they continued like that for a couple of days. Given the motion of the ship no photos of the wild waves were possible! These are the conditions that sailors in the open seas can experience and endure at times.
These floating pods are wave energy converters off the coast of Perth, Western Australia. Designed and managed by Carnegie, they represent the first commercial scale wave energy project in the world. Tidal energy is also being captured for human use. Plans to expand the production of energy from both waves and tides are in train. Source: au.mathworks.com.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney begins his book ‘The Wavewatcher’s Companion’ discussing ocean waves. Then he goes onto explore a multitude of other waves that make up our world. These include brainwaves, shock waves, light waves, sound waves and Mexican waves. All of these waves are powerful in their own way. My first encounter with Gavin was through his book ‘The Cloudspotter’s Guide’ and the Cloud Appreciation Society which he founded. Clouds and waves are related, as all things elemental tend to be.