Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

GV 838 .F58 A3 2015

Barbarian Days is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing looks like a sport, but that’s only to outsiders. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life.

Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy, then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses – off the coasts of New York and San Francisco – and dramatizes the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships forged in challenging waves.

Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu. He shows us a world turned upside down for kids and adults alike by the social upheavals of the 1960s. He details the intricacies of famous waves and his own apprenticeships to them. Youthful folly – he tries to ride maxed-out Holoua Bay, on Maui, on LSD – is served with rueful humor. He and a buddy, their knapsacks crammed with reef charts, bushwhack through Polynesia. They discover – while camping on an uninhabited island in Fiji – one of the world’s greatest waves. As Finnegan’s travels take him ever father afield, he becomes an improbable anthropologist: unpicking the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, teasing out the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, navigating the black market in Southeast Asia while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity. Today, Finnegan’s surfing life is undiminished. Juggling work and family, he chases his enchantment through Long Island ice storms and forgotten corners of Madagascar.

Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little-understood art.”
– publisher description

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