"Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life" by William Finnegan (2015)
"And so came that last wave. The tide was dropping. Bryan had already gone in. The swell was also dropping. The wind had clocked around and gone light northeast - onshore - making for messy conditions and a hard-looking, army-green surface that resembled Ventura more than it did the tropics."
William Finnegan is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Aside from Barbarian Days he's also written several books on various socioeconomic topics. He currently lives in New York.
In this memoir he recounts his years growing up in southern California, later years spent learning how to surf in Hawaii, and travels to several countries in search of the perfect wave. All of this leads to the book's conclusion, which consists of his taking stock of previous travels, and the effect old age has had on his love of the sport.
This book is a lot longer than it needed to be, and the descriptions of surfing sessions grow incredibly repetitive. I even went and asked various surfer friends about the book, and they shared my opinion. After a certain point it dwells overmuch on the size of certain waves, the peril they represented, and the author's escapes from death. This formula works in the beginning, but by the time he moves to Portugal it's tiresome in the extreme.
I can only assume that the author's clout as a staff writer for The New Yorker allowed him to avoid much of the editing process necessary to make this book much better. His prose is at times pretentious, and the inclusion of every last surfing trip makes the book seem shallower (if you'll forgive the pun) than need be the case.
The highlight of this memoir is definitely the author's trip to Fiji, back before surfers were visiting it with any regularity. In my opinion this trip should have taken up a much larger part of the book than it did, and descriptions of the cultures and individuals encountered there would have made for more interesting reading. This approach would have been much better than listing off surfing trips in an encyclopedic fashion, and ending the book with the author's return from Fiji would have made for a more satisfying conclusion. A little brooding on mortality would have been OK, but a little of that goes a long way.
If you surf, you'll find something to like in this book. If you don't? It's probably better not to bother with it.
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