Barbarian Days – A detailed memoir with love for the surf
Firstly, it didn’t hurt one bit to be reading Barbarian Days whilst on holiday in Waikiki.
Barbarian Days – A Surfing Life is a stunning and detailed memoir about the life of free spirit, journalist and surfer William Finnegan. The book takes us through Will’s early, awkward teenage years and into adulthood. Whatever is going on in his life, whichever friends and partners drift in and out, there is one constant. Surfing.
I’ve never so much as paddle boarded in the ocean and the hairiest water experience had was when I was 12 years old. I got stuck under a giant inflatable play toy during splash time at the local aquatic centre for all of 15 seconds. My tiny, awkward life flashed before my eyes. I honestly thought I was a going to die. I think I cried so loudly and caused such a scene my mum had to don a disguise for years after when it was swimming carnival time for me or my little brother (sorry mum). Laughable compared to the big waves and sets Will took himself out onto and taught himself to ride in the 60’s and 70’s during the golden time of the surfing scene.
At the Bay Area Book Festival, Pulitzer Prize winning writer William Finnegan, author of “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,” on catching nice waves in Honolulu and talking while surfing.
The detailed descriptions of waves, often a couple of paragraphs long, take you in and you feel like you are out on the board (or bobbing about safely in a dinghy nearby) feeling the tides, the sets and the power of the surf. You don’t need to be a surfer at all to fall in love with this book, Will’s life story in itself is just as interesting and a real snapshot of American life in the peace, love and hippy times of the swinging 60’s and free loving 70’s. A genuine, honest and personal memoir speckled with intimate descriptions of the surf and a look back to some of Americas most iconic beaches and culture as surfing grew it’s loyal following.
Reading this book made me want to go back in time, buy a VW Combi, a rashie and a board, then tour the coastline and ‘stick it to the man’!
Barbarian Days is the life story of someone who can truly look in the mirror and say ‘I Lived A Life.’ On ya Will!.
4 out of 5
The Book Jacket
A deeply-rendered self-portrait of a life-long surfer by the acclaimed New Yorker journalist
Barbarian Days is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, of 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 annealed in challenging waves.
Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu while his closest friend was a Hawaiian surfer, and of 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 drops acid while riding huge Honolua Bay on Maui?is served with rueful humor. Their knapsacks crammed with reef charts, he and a buddy 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 farther afield, he becomes an improbable anthropologist: unpicking the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissecting the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, navigating the Indonesian black market while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.
Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of a novice’s gradual mastering of a demanding, little-understood art. Today, Finnegan’s surfing life is undiminished. Frantically juggling work and family, he chases his enchantment through Long Island ice storms and obscure corners of Madagascar.