Author Susan Casey has made her mark as the editor-in-chief of O: The Oprah Magazine, but her two books focus on the oceans’ wildest adventurers, from shark researchers to rogue waves surfers. She spoke with Oceana about her first book, “The Devil’s Teeth,” and the ceaseless pull of the ocean.
Why you were drawn to the oceans?
I think I was born drawn to the ocean. I grew up in landlocked Toronto, and I grew up around lakes, but I wasn’t exposed to the ocean a lot. It wasn’t until I started into my adult years that I started spending time by the ocean. But I was always obsessed by water. The ocean has so much incredible life, and as a writer, so many mysteries and awesome stories.
When did you first start writing about the oceans professionally?
At Outside Magazine, I wasn’t writing stories about the ocean, but I was assigning a lot of them. I assigned stories about big wave surfing, and I assigned the story that became the movie Blue Crush. I was able to indulge my interest that way.
What drew you to sharks?
I was always interested in what lay below the surface of any given body of water. It always seemed like it was parallel universe. I saw this BBC documentary that was about the Farallon Islands. The islands are 27 miles from the coast of San Francisco. The water is very dark, black, cold and filled with krill. This film showed the scientists in their little 11-foot Boston Whaler with these 20-foot white sharks. The whole thing was just so haunting. The notion that these incredible beasts lived within San Francisco city limits, I just could not get it out of my mind. So I pursued the story, got to know the scientists, and learned why they haven’t been written about, because they’re really hard to get to and really dangerous.
What was it like the first time you looked down and saw a shark right next to your boat?
I remember it very vividly because there were a number of sharks around, they were really interested. All the scientists had done was put a six-foot flip board out in the water. They didn’t tow the flip board, they just plunked it into the water, and we probably saw nine passes by sharks. Sharks were just circling the boat. And then just as the moment I thought I would never go in the water in the Farallones, I saw a guy getting out of the water, and that was my favorite character in the book, this Ron Elliott, who’s the lone remaining urchin diver in the Farallones. He has dived out there alone for years and years and years. There’s a very interesting cast of characters in the human realm as well as the shark realm out there.