I'm halfway through William Finnegan's Barbarian Days. Yes, this book came out about two years ago. I got there in the end. But not to the end. Yet.
But I will finish this book. It's what scribes of back-cover blurb call "a compulsive read".
Why? Because of the blend of tone (down to earth, unforced), credibility (Finnegan put the hours in, both to writing and surfing) and style (sick of "sick" as the adjective de rigueur in surfing? Unstoked by people who are stoked? In need of something that might really be "epic", rather than a stale imitation? Finnegan is the answer).
The book is arguably the best map of surfing's evolution from the early 60s to the present day yet written. Finnegan was there at the beginning, in epicentres like Hawaii and California (initially riding longboards). He was swept up by the shortboard revolution before heading off on The Search ahead of its colonisation as a marketing term. He got to ride Tavarua before it became a tourist resort (have they now killed the snakes there, to make it user-friendly, I wonder?), spent time in the Lucky Country and snagged waves in Bali, various African countries and Madeira, as well as a whole load of places in between.
My trajectory through life mirrors Finnegan's not in the sense that I ever became anything to write home about as a surfer, but thanks to the places we visited. I imagine this is the same for many surfers. Of whatever level - hotshot, kook, somewhere in between - the chances are that we'll visit the same places, at some time or another.
Another similarity is that Finnegan read constantly on his trips here and there. With some 240 pages of Barbarian Days to go, I sense that the book doubles as a memoir not just of a surfing life but of a writer's, too. And like Finnegan, everywhere I went I had a book on the go; to read (and learn) was as important as to see (and surf).
We also both like Joyce, although unlike Finnegan I haven't read Finnegans Wake. Thanks to his excellent book, I feel it's time to revisit the Irish master - and to find the time, so elusive thanks to work and all the things that add up to life, for surfing again.