Books & Literature

Book Review: Into the Rip, by Damien Cave

NON-FICTION: When Damien Cave brought his young family to Sydney to set up the New York Times’ Australian Bureau, they encountered the local pursuits of Nippers and surfing–and a completely different approach to risk that changed the way they lived their lives.

A joint finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his New York Times reporting on the Iraq war, Damien Cave has taken risk to a new level by releasing his first book, Into the Rip.

Cave is no stranger to risk. As a journalist, he has been in dangerous territory covering momentous issues (on the ground) such as the war in Iraq and the drug wars of Mexico City. Before moving to Australia in 2017 and taking on the role of Australian Bureau Chief, he always considered himself to be a risk-taker.

What he found upon settling into the beachside suburb Bronte, NSW, however, is that individual risks are less challenging than risks taken in a community setting. In his words, the Australian (community) form of risk made him stronger, happier, and “less American”. The risk he refers to is surf lifesaving, which resulted in his hard-earned Bronze Medallion, and its associated Nippers’ programme.

Cave has worked for the New York Times for almost two decades and his expertise as a journalist shines through in this novel. His analysis of the Nippers’ programme, his history of the surf lifesaving club at Bronte, and the excellent inclusion of psychologists’ assessments on the nature of risk are enjoyable aspects in this novel. There is a vast amount of credibility in his research.

By the same token, his skills as a journalist also made the book a little too intellectual as he narrates on his growth like an observer. This book is about self-growth, about his cultural immersion into the Australian way of life, and how it challenged him in unexpected ways.

As a reader, though, at times it does not feel totally genuine. On several occasions he talks of his experiences like a journalist, in objective or neutral terms, like he has found the ‘scoop’ and is delivering it. One thinks, was he just looking for a challenge to plunge into, to write about risk? Despite his wholeheartedly talking of failure and overcoming it, it feels somehow to be an unnatural story on personal growth when it lacks emotion.

For example, when he narrates his timed swim failure, he talks about how going back for more will make him a role model for his kids: “Showing failure to my kids teaches them.” Then, there is the inclusion of the Christchurch massacre, which hardly seemed necessary at all, if one considers the intent of the book to be about the challenges experienced by one entering the surf lifesaving world. This comparing of worlds (family, work, Nippers) with his personal story spreads the story too broadly, making it impersonal.

Despite this discordance, the book is all round a good read. It is well structured, fantastically researched, and provides a beautiful insight into the Australian surf lifesaving community. It suits any audience and makes one proud to be Australian.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: September 2021
RRP: $32.99

A great story on self-growth but lacks heart.

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