Under The Wave At Waimea by Paul Theroux

Under The Wave At Waimea is about Joe Sharkey, an aging big wave surfer still recognized for his past successes but forced to face a steady decline in his faculties and abilities. Sharkey’s story, his childhood in Hawaii and his legendary feats immediately brought to mind another Hawaiian named Joe, Joey Meyer.

Tanner Joe Meyer and the fictional Joe Sharkey would have just a four year age difference between them, which would make them of the same era, but cause them to miss each other as students at Punahou High School in Honolulu, HI. Unlike Meyer, who was drafted out of Punahou (but did not sign) and graduated, Sharkey left after getting caught selling drugs and refusing to take a deal that would allow him to remain enrolled if he gave up the names of his buyers. Sharkey then went to Roosevelt High School and began skipping school to surf every day, while Meyer spent two years at University of Hawaii (on a football scholarship) before being drafted and signing with the Milwaukee Brewers. Both were becoming legends.

For Joe Sharkey that legend was made on the big waves of North Shore, Oahu and then around the world. For Joey Meyer, his legend was made along various minor league stops like Beloit, Wisconsin, El Paso, Texas, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Denver, Colorado where the legend was truly born. More on that shortly. Like Joe Sharkey who chased down big surf all over the globe, Meyer also played all over the world, including stops in the Dominican Republic as well as Japan where he hit 26 of the Yokohama Taiyo Whales’ 90 home runs in 1990. Despite being their most productive power hitter, Meyer was released for not being able to play manager Yutaka Sudo’s speed and defense-focused game. The way Meyer remembers it, though, he fouled a ball off his foot and needed to drill a hole in his toe to relieve the pressure. As Meyer tells it, “We were playing on turf and it hurt too much, so I took myself out. Sudo-San said in Japanese that I had no guts, and I told him to fuck himself. Then he told me the same thing – in English.”

The two both had fathers who heavily impacted their lives. Sharkey’s father was a career military man who expected his son to attend West Point and follow in his footsteps. He was gone from home for long stretches at a time as a leader of special ops in Vietnam. Joey Meyer’s father was a firefighter who was also an assistant coach on Meyer’s high school football team and threw endless batting practice to his powerful son, providing him with the skills and experience both on the diamond and the gridiron.

For me, the biggest link between the fictional and real Hawaiian Joes was in their legendary feats. Sharkey won big wave contests on Oahu then took his board all over, conquering big surf around the world. Similarly, Joey Meyer was known for hitting countless prodigious blasts at every stop – 30 home runs at A ball, 37 at AA, and an astonishing 29 at AAA in just 298 at bats. But it was each one’s greatest moment, the cementing of their legend that felt so similar to me. Sharkey heard about a giant wave in Portugal that nobody had ever surfed. Keeping it as quiet as possible, he heads there with plans to be towed into the surf and photographed with his sponsors present to document the historic ride. Instead, fellow big wave surfer Garret McNamara beats Sharkey by a day and becomes the first to ride the 100 foot wave at Nazare.

The next day Sharkey goes out there all by himself and becomes the second but with nobody to witness it but his jet-ski driver. Joey Meyer also went big for his legend, hitting a home run in Denver that is still counted as the longest home run accurately measured to ever be hit. While the number of people who claim to have seen it live has probably swelled over the years, only 1,404 fans were in attendance when Meyer hit his 582 foot blast.

I love how the announcer says the ball must have gone 450 feet

Joe Sharkey spends the book suspended between his fading fame and being recognized. Meyer is both well known but happy to remain anonymous. People still talk about the powerful Hawaiian. Former Punahou head coach Pal Eldredge said, “It’s 40 years later, and I’m still telling stories about Joey Meyer. He’s a legend.” Or as current Brewer and Hawaii native Kolten Wong tweeted earlier this year, “everyone knows of him! Hawaiian baseball legend”. Meyer, though, chooses to be more inconspicuous. He works in security at a hospital and says, “I don’t tell anybody” about his time in Major League Baseball

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