I’m flattening a piece of curly maple and the wood tears under the plane in places regardless of direction. I have switched to a low angle block plane which has solved the problem, so far. The wood is not very expensive or high quality; the grain is wavy vs straight; and the tearing is at the figured places, the curl(s). Is it possible to NOT have this problem with curly maple?, i.e. if the wood is very high quality with straight grain? Or is this a problem solely to do with the figure?
Highly figured wood is often trickier to work with. Birdseye is infamous for this, as the eyes can pop out while the wood is being worked.
The lower angle plane helps. You can also try a scraper plane or simply go to the scraper sooner than you normally would.
Deep curls make the wood a little more difficult to bend on the bending iron as well. The price of the wood has less to do with ease of carving than with its age, source, split, figure, density, and grain.
You can try putting a micro bevel on your plane iron to raise the effective cutting angle and taking a very fine cut. Lightly dampening the surface helps, but any kind of heavy cut is going to be trouble with figured wood. Transparent shavings, closed mouth, chip breaker right down close to the edge, fitted tight. Going through the plane and re-fettling it properly may be needed. Thick plane iron, etc. Those old high-angle English infill planes were made for difficult veneers, IIRC.