Saturday, October 22, 2016

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life -- William Finnegan --------------------- 4 Stars

Growing up in Hawaii, surfing was a large part of life. And while I never loved it, and took part much more to connect with friends and enjoy being in the water, I remember well my surfing days. With much nostalgia, I truly enjoyed William Finnegan's Barbarian Days.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Barbarian Days is truly a great surfing story. Autobiographical, the author tells his story of his upbringing in California and then early life in Hawaii.  He goes on to tell stories as he travels the world looking for great surf. The story does a fantastic job of balancing Finnegan's search for what his purpose is in life and the purpose of trying to find a great wave.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable part of the book is the author's description of waves. Frankly, I never thought there would be so many ways to describe the ocean and a wave. Amazingly, Finnegan does so page after page (and there are plenty), describing, and vividly recalling, wave after wave across our planet.

Similarly, I very much enjoyed Finnegan's description of all the different places he's surfed. From southern (and northern - San Fran.) California, to Hawaii, to the Pacific, to South Africa, to Portugal, and then to Long Island.  He really goes on a journey around the world, while beautifully describing the people and places he goes, to find great surf.

The book is not perfect, though. It's slow in portions. It sometimes feels like an odd balance between the surf stories and Finnegan's true search for what his purpose is. About that... I did feel a bit of annoyance for the author.  I'm not sure if his goal was to earn sympathy (I doubt it was), but his writing does feel that way sometimes.  Specifically, the reader is supposed to sympathize when he struggles to figure out his lot in life, which girl to date and follow, how to really make his mark, etc. Along the way, though, he travels the world doing nothing more than searching for good waves. In Finnegan's defense, I should note that he worked to stop apartheid in South Africa and traveled to war torn countries to report on their situations internationally.

Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of the book was one of the early chapters about Maui. During his early years, the author was living in Lahaina and working in a bookstore for ends meat. While the Maui he described then was not the exact same as my memories,  the amazing surf spot, Honolua was. Ironically, it was not until I was nearly leaving Maui (which turned out to be forever...#sad) that I appreciated just how lucky I was.

So, if you have any interest at all in surfing, or a great story about trying to find one's self or just a great travel book, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  You won't regret it.

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