Surfing has an appeal that’s certainly been appealing to me. Being alone, in your own head, conquering waves on your own terms, the rush of speed, the skill of carving a path that seems to go on forever, coming out of a tube still in an upright position. The lifestyle of hanging out on the beach, chilling with friends and never being cold. After all, people only surf where it's warm. Of course, I discovered my impressions to be very wrong after reading William Finnigan’s new book, “Barbarian Days: A Surfer’s Life.” In San Francisco where he surfed some of the biggest waves in the world, he got so cold he had to get strangers to open the door of his car.
Mr. Finnigan’s surfing life begins as a child and continues right into his sixties when he’s writing the book. His dad worked at various jobs in the film industry eventually becoming a producer and director of television and so, lucky for the author, they lived first, along the coast of Los Angeles and later, Hawaii. He spent the money he made doing odd jobs on surf boards and the rest of his free time in the water.
After graduating from college, he embarks on a world-wide search for the ultimate wave with Brian, a close friend. They visit islands of Micronesia, travel Australia, surf Indonesia and Java. When they’re not surfing, they write which they eventually both do as a career. They’re search for the perfect wave also pays off in Indonesia. It’s a monstrous wave they can ride seemingly forever. However, they must always be cautious of the reef below that will tear their skin to pieces should they fall. Alone on the island, help could arrive by boat after they lit a signal fire on the beach. The risks were considerable.
After a year and a bit of surfing, Brian tires of the life and tells Bill that, he wants to go home. They separate in Singapore where Bill meets his girlfriend and simultaneously suffers a severe bout of malaria. "Your blood is black with it," proclaims the doctor. Interesting for me is the fact that he also saw gargoyles in his malaria induced fever hallucinations, an experience I shared with my blood black with malaria.
|William Finnegan from "Surfer Mag"|
After recovering, he continues on his search for the perfect wave, this time with his girlfriend for companionship. Intent on always moving west, his next move is South Africa where his girlfriend tells him she’s had enough. She leaves him and he gets a job teaching school that he pursues with passion. It’s the early 1980s and apartheid has become an issue of concern to the entire world. Suddenly, Bill’s got something to write about that everyone wants to read. The “New Yorker” magazine agrees to publish his article and so his professional writing career begins.
The author moves to San Francisco with his his Zimbabwe, originally Rhodesian born girlfriend and later wife. There, he meets Mark Renneker, the crazy doctor willing to surf the most monstrous of waves that break off the nearby coast. A few years later, he and his wife move to New York where he continues his surfing passion off the coast of New Jersey taking surfing holidays in Medeira, Portugal, an island just off the coast of Morocco, and the island where he and Brian had found the perfect wave only now it’s an exclusive resort.
Mr. Finnigan complains the rising popularity of surfing at the same time writing a book about his own passion for it, and passion is contagious. Surfing has been the thread that’s providing meaning to his life. It’s hard not to imagine if others, after reading this book, won’t think that it could do the same for them. The best memoir I've read since "Angela's Ashes."