Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life Reviewed

Some books speak to the reader on a personal level, and others sing. The award-winning surfing memoir, Barbarian Days, is one of those latter books offering anyone who has ever surfed the chance to get lost within the rhythms, melodies and harmonies that tumble from master storyteller, William Finnegan.

This memoir tale of how a young kid from California fell in love with surfing and the life that followed rolls like the very waves themselves. It is a genuine real-life adventure that spans continents where remote, exotic and occasionally mythic waves are chased as one man’s obsession proves a powerful travelling companion.

Along the way we are introduced to other familiar life companions; love and loss, hope and despair, joy and defeat, and we gain familiar insight into how each has moulded William into the man he has become. Barbarian Days is a conduit to times gone by from both a surfing perspective and a social one. We play witness to how William struggles for balance in a life strewn with obstacles in a bid to ultimately better understand the world in which he is living whilst constantly craving the next wave.

He has lived a life peppered by unforgettable characters all of whom are brought into vivid life on the page.

The kids who took him under their wings during his transition from California to Hawaii, the ones who would want to fight him at every opportunity, the lovers who would play a shared role in his life alongside his love for surfing, and the friends and enemies who would cross his path on this journey through life and the land.

However, the true beauty of Barbarian Days lives within the words themselves. The way in which William talks about surfing is like nothing that has gone before. The depth of his devotion to chasing waves simply devours the reader. The way he describes the paddle out, the hold down, and the joy of the ride will echo with everyone who has ever paddled into a wave with their own hopes and dreams, and will have those yet to do so scrambling for a board of their own. Never before has a writer captured the real essence of surfing’s hold on the soul in the way William Finnegan manages on the pages of Barbarian Days.

As memoirs go, this is a wonderful read where the lines between love and obsession are frequently blurred. As surfing memoirs go, this is nothing short of a masterpiece.

For those seeking the audiobook over the print version, William Finnegan himself takes up reading duties and delivers the story in a gentle, laid-back way that only he really could.

Neil Bason
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Neil Bason

Lag-blaming, coin-collecting, medic-calling, leaderboard-propping, rage-quitting, dice-rolling, card-playing, table-flipping, joystick-waggling game nerd. Pleased to meet you.

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