William Finnegan | Books & Literature » Non-Fiction

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

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20 MAY 2022

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A 1992 New Yorker piece on surfing by William Finnegan, which was eventually turned into the Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

"Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life" 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. Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu. 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.

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