William Finnegan is the author of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, published by Hachette Australia RRP $24.99. He will be attending the Byron Bay Writers Festival from 5-7 August 2016, with further Australian tour details to be announced.
William Finnegan is the author of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, published by Hachette Australia RRP $24.99. He will be attending the Byron Bay Writers Festival from 5-7 August 2016, with further Australian tour details to be announced.

Pulitzer-prize winning surfer tells his tale at Byron Writers Festival

FOR most of his adulthood, New York writer and journalist William Finnegan has lived a kind of double life.

On one side is the highly respected political author, a long-term staff writer at the esteemed New Yorker.

On the other is a wild surfer nomad, a man who in his 20s spent several years on a surf safari that included memorable stints in the South Pacific, Indonesia, South Africa, and Australia.

It's the latter life that is the subject of his latest book, Barbarian Days (2015), the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir which traces his obsession with surfing from boyhood and contemplates the hold it has on his spirit.

Mr Finnegan is one of the headlining authors at this year's Byron Writers Festival, with his visit hailed as a coup by festival director Edwina Johnson.

 

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Barbarian Days combines elements of a travelogue, a coming of age story, and a surfing odyssey.

It charts the course of the author's life as he chases his love of the ocean before making room for other things in his life beyond the waves.

"The book is partly about the struggle to become a responsible citizen, but equally about the struggle against responsibility," he explained.

When he comes in August, the author will no doubt pay a visit to Coolangatta, where he lived and worked in the late 70s with friend Bryan Di Salvatore - as a means to surf the intimidating, exhilirating waves of Kirra in its prime.

One of the book's chapters, The Lucky Country, recounts this trip in vivid detail - his impression of the democratic, classless Australian culture of the time, the harrowing hollow waves of Kirra, the odd jobs and characters of the day.

It was a legendary time and place in Australian surfing folklore - and his contribution will be cherished by surfers and non-surfers alike.

There is another memory described in the book which the author said he was particularly proud of - because he received an out-of-the-blue email recently about it by pioneering Aussie surfer Bob McTavish.

The author recalls how as a 16-year-old in 1968, he watched McTavish surfing a then-revolutionary short board at Rincon in California with breathtaking power and speed.

"It was big, he took off really really deep.... and was just going faster than anyone I've ever seen... your eye couldn't follow it," Mr Finnegan said.

"It was incredibly exciting."

In his recent email, McTavish thanked the author for his accurate depiction of what he also remembered as one of his great surfing sessions.

At the tail end of his world trip Mr Finnegan spent time in apartheid South Africa which propelled his life in a different direction, toward serious writing and the coverage of world affairs. That in turn prompted his eventual move from San Francisco to New York and writing for the New Yorker.

But even though has lived in Manhattan since 1987, Mr Finnegan still surfs regularly.

"I thought that there wouldn't be any good surf around New York, but it turns out there is quite good waves," he said.

"I surf a lot, much more than I ever thought I would."



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