I’m not a surfer. Nor am I a surf-writer. But I’ve decided that I am a surf-reader-abouter. For some reason I love reading books (and watching movies) about surfing. It’s such a beautiful, elegant sport that could totally kill you if you’re not smart and careful. Good surf books, though, can be hard to come by. They tend to hide from me and then jump out when I’m least expecting them. Recently a new surf book landed on my desk. I’ve never heard of William Finnegan as a surfer, but his book Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life seemed like something I had to check out.
With his father working on TV shows and movies, Finnegan and family bounced back and forth between Hawaii and California, depending on his dad’s shooting schedule. Between moves, Finnegan learned how to surf on some great waves. In the sixties, when he was a kid, surfing was just starting to find a new surge in popularity. It wasn’t the overly-sponsored corporate clog that it has become. There were still waves to find that were pristine and rideable. As a teenager, the author lived near some of the best breaks in the world, including Rincon and Honolua Bay.
During college, Finnegan and a buddy set out on a round the world surf trip – a la Endless Summer - that would last several years. Some of the unknown waves they surfed in the 70s and 80s are must-surfs for today’s elite. My favorite aspect of Finnegan’s trip was that he wasn’t just out looking for a monster wave to ride and conquer, like some of the books I’ve read. He was simply exploring great waves sites and letting Mother Nature do her thing.
This book was really dense and even though I’m a fast reader, it took me a couple of weeks to plow through. It wasn’t quite a double wave hold down, but there were times I definitely had to come up for air. Finnegan totally immerses you in the world he grew up in and chose to chase for the better part of his adult life. I found that I missed his voice in my head when I wasn’t reading – I wanted more surf stories. If I had the money and time (and was better at “roughing it”), it would be fun to travel and see some of his waves. Not surf them, mind you, because I have zero skill at that. But I think that waves are beautiful and these sound like something that would be very worth seeing. And like the author, I didn’t want it to end.
Happy surfing (or surf-reading-about)…