In the fifth adventure of the Take It to The Xtreme Series, fifteen-year-old best friends Jake and Peter are cruising the Northwest Coast on a yacht from which they help lead ocean kayak tours. Better yet, on their hours off, they break out their surf boards to hit the waves with an attractive fifteen-year-old French girl who is on the trip. But when the three teens get permission to go scuba diving, a harrowing misadventure leaves them stranded on a remote island. The boys’ competition for the girl turns to panic when they find that the yacht has mysteriously abandoned them. Although buoyed by the discovery of surfboards in an empty cabin, the trio are soon locked into a fight for their lives when a major storm hits as they attempt to cross the serious stretch of open water between their island and the mainland. By the time they’ve tangled with thirty-foot waves, the stubbornness of their companion, and a grave robber, the boys have a new respect for nature, local legends, and what does and doesn’t belong to them.
Click here to learn about the story behind the book!
Blame it on Valerie. She’s the hot French surfer who gets stuck on a deserted island with my characters Jake and Peter. For the first time in the Extreme series, this book allows for a hint of romance – as in, both main-character boys fall for Valerie, which is not a good idea when you’re best friends.
And she’s French, which introduced all kinds of unanticipated complications for me as author. First, I had to set up dialogue in which she used a mix of French and English. And it had to be Parisian French. Then I had to decide where to immediately translate and where to let the reader figure it out.
Worst of all, it wouldn’t be realistic for her to speak perfect English, so I had to figure out how a not-quite-fluent French person would structure English sentences (without sounding like a “Hollywood Indian”).
Of course, authors do this all the time, and I’ve done it since Surf Zone in several books with Spanish-speaking characters. But believe me, it does throw up challenges and adds time to the writing process.
It helped that the self-described “surf bum” who became my consultant (Malcolm Johnson) had a French-speaking girlfriend he could run things by. It helped that my cave-diving friend Valerie Ducros (after whom my character Valerie was named) was French-French and willing to read the manuscript over after I’d finished it, correcting the occasional phrase.
And I was lucky that a friend married to a francophone was willing to un-Hollywood-Indian some of character Valerie’s English phrases. Examples: “My parents are not yet come.” “Better than visit from shark.”
Basically, since I have always found myself irritated by authors who “show off” foreign language facility by not translating words and phrases, I restrained myself as to how often Valerie spoke French, and I translated immediately after except where it was obvious. But clearly, I’m in particular debt to my friend who un-Hollywooded the purposely-mangled English; that was the most difficult challenge.
So, the story behind this novel is that due to a scuba diving accident, the boys and Valerie end up stranded on an island from which surfboards offer the only escape. To write the diving section (and also to write another book that year, Breathless), I not only became a certified scuba diver, but took my instructor Darren Moss out to lunch to interview him and thank him for reading over pertinent paragraphs. (He also got a free autographed book. I signed it, “From your worst scuba diving student.” He said I was not his worst student, which I think is really scary!)
In my opinion, the scene where they run out of air in a tunnel that leads to the island is the most extreme scene I’ve ever written in any book.
Other trivia about writing Surf Zone:
- The scene where the octopus wraps its arm around Jake’s wrist and traps him in the rising tide was inspired by a real-life incident I read about in the biography of a surfer.
- Their boat is named The Adrienne after my friend, children’s author and ocean-life expert I consulted with, Adrienne Mason.
- “Captain Dylan” and Gavin are named after my son’s friends who accompanied me on a research weekend to Tofino, British Columbia, Canada (where the story takes place).
- I tried to sign up for surfing lessons that same weekend, but was unable to due to a storm. However, I have done a fair bit of kayak surfing, which can be quite terrifying. Did you know that kayak surfers, when they see they’re on a collision course with a surfer, are supposed to purposely flip over (and roll a minute later), to avoid the collision? Takes a whole lot of presence of mind and confidence to actually do that.
- After reading the manuscript, an anthropology professor and friend exclaimed, “This story actually defines cultural appropriation for kids!” (The bad guys were stealing artefacts from coastal burial caves, which is both disrespectful and illegal.) Well, my readers may never get their mouths around “cultural appropriation,” but it was my intention to make them more aware of and sensitive about the issue.
- The romance element was inspired by a Port Alberni, B.C. Canada girl who, after a school presentation I gave, asked me, “Why don’t Jake and Peter have girlfriends?” When I acknowledged her contribution in a talk at the same school a year later, she happened to be there, so I gave her an autographed copy of the book. I just love it when students at presentations give me ideas for future books!