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Winner of the Pulitzer Price and William Hill Sports Book of the Year: Barbarian Days is a deeply rendered self-portrait of a lifelong surfer looking for transcendence 'that recalls early James Salter' (Geoff Dyer, Observer)
Surfing only looks like a sport. To devotees, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a mental and physical study, a passionate way of life.
New Yorker writer William Finnegan first started surfing as a young boy in California and Hawaii. Barbarian Days is his immersive memoir of a life spent travelling the world chasing waves through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa and beyond. Finnegan describes the edgy yet enduring brotherhood forged among the swell of the surf; and recalling his own apprenticeship to the world's most famous and challenging waves, he considers the intense relationship formed between man, board and water.
Barbarian Days is an old-school adventure story, a social history, an extraordinary exploration of one man's gradual mastering of an exacting and little-understood art. It is a memoir of dangerous obsession and enchantment.
'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
In this panoramic and fascinating memoir, long-time New Yorker staff writer Finnegan pays tribute to the ancient art of surfing. Arriving on Oahu from California at 13, in the mid-1960s, Finnegan discovered that Hawaiian public school students weren't particularly welcoming to haoles; surfing brought him acceptance and contentment, and would remain central to his life for the next half century. In the late 1970s, he set out in pursuit of a perfect wave, and spent five years circumnavigating the globe with long stops in Polynesia, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, and South Africa. The social inequality he witnessed led him to journalism, but after his return to the U.S. and fatherhood, the waves still beckoned, even if that meant enduring a January swell off Long Island. Throughout this lengthy work, Finnegan never loses sight of the marginalized, such as the black students he taught in apartheid South Africa. Yet the core of the book is a surfing chronicle, and Finnegan possesses impeccable short-board bona fides. As a middle-aged, professionally successful man, he grapples with his aging body and the contradictions of surfing's commodification, at one point returning as a high-end tourist to a wave he pioneered as a penniless kid. Surfing (mostly) remains a man's world, and Finnegan's attempts to mention the women he loved seem like afterthoughts. Nevertheless, he has written a revealing and magisterial account of a beautiful addiction.