Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
**Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography**
“Reading this guy on the subject of waves and water is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting; William Burroughs on controlled substances; Updike on adultery. . . . a coming-of-age story, seen through the gloss resin coat of a surfboard.” —Sports Illustrated
Barbarian Days is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, 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, and 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. It immerses the reader in 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 drops LSD while riding huge Honolua Bay, on Maui—is served up with rueful humor. As Finnegan’s travels take him ever farther afield, he discovers the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissects the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, and navigates 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 the gradual mastering of an exacting, little-understood art.
Praise for Barbarian Days:
“Without a doubt, the finest surf book I’ve ever read . . . But on a more fundamental level, Barbarian Days offers a clear-eyed vision of American boyhood. Like Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, it is a sympathetic examination of what happens when literary ideas of freedom and purity take hold of a young mind and fling his body out into the far reaches of the world.” —The New York Times Magazine
“Incandescent . . . I’d sooner press this book upon on a nonsurfer, in part because nothing I’ve read so accurately describes the feeling of being stoked or the despair of being held under. . . . [But] it’s also about a writer’s life and, even more generally, a quester’s life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I’ve read in a long time.” —Los Angeles Times
a point, take care of myself, and my parents had three younger ones to worry about. My sister, Colleen, ended up being the sailor from our generation. • • • THE DREAM OF back-to-nature surfing solitude had a predictable by-product: rank nostalgia. A high percentage of the stories I wrote in my journals involved time travel, most often back to an earlier California. Imagine going back to the days of the Chumash Indians, or the Spanish missions, if you could just take a modern surfboard with
bigger productions, like oatmeal or canned corned beef, we built a fire. One night, heavy rain chased me into the tent. I didn’t like being crammed against Bryan, and I imagined he didn’t care for it either. I crawled out at first light. The garbage in the surf was thicker than ever, with the runoff from the downpour, but the swell was clean and had built overnight. Down toward the river mouth there was a reliable channel running out to sea. We used that to paddle out. But when the surf got
SIX THE LUCKY COUNTRY Australia, 1978–79 SOMEONE SENT US A COPY OF OUTSIDE MAGAZINE WITH AN ARTICLE by an old professor of mine. It was about a lost weekend of skiing and carousing in Montana. I remembered the weekend, though differently. I was surprised that anybody would be interested in our grad school revels. Maybe my grasp of American amusement was weakening with distance. The article mentioned that I was now “living the unexamined life in Australia.” Except for the Australia part, that
outside. The intensity of my shame and self-loathing was unsettling. Sharon and I wrote letters, many, and hers were usually a comfort to get, but I could hardly tell her everything. She was undoubtedly being similarly discreet. The true parameters of my loneliness were mine to cope with. • • • BRYAN AND I WANTED TO WRITE an article for Tracks, a surf mag published in Sydney. Tracks was nothing like its glossy, clean-cut American cousins. It was a newsprint tabloid. Editorially, it was rude,
fair Irish skin). On the patch of damp sand at the bottom of our path, she would spread beach towels and lead the little ones into the lagoon with masks and nets. She got my sister, Colleen, into training for her First Communion at a church in Waikiki. She even, when possible, jumped on planes to the neighboring islands with my dad, usually with Michael, who was three, on her hip, and some hasty babysitting arrangement in her wake. And in the outer islands she found, I think, a Hawaii more to her