An award-winning staff writer for the New Yorker offers a probing account of his lifetime passion for surfing.
Though Finnegan (Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country, 1998, etc.) was not “a beach kid,” family friends showed him how to enjoy riding the waves of the nearby Pacific Ocean. Eventually, surfing became an interest he pursued with growing avidity as his parents moved between Southern California and Hawaii. Between detailed accounts of his encounters with the waves of San Onofre and Honolua Bay, Finnegan interweaves stories of growing up a bookish boy among Hawaiian natives who hated him for being haole (white) yet also finding friendship among fellow outsiders who saw beyond race and bonded over surfing. A “sunburnt pagan,” Finnegan was gradually initiated into the deeper mysteries of the ocean that created the waves he rode with such dedicated absorption. He became like the early Hawaiian pioneers of surfing: not exactly “barbaric” (as these practitioners were considered by Christian missionaries) but still part of a group “typecast as truants and vagrants.” In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the author pushed the limits of freedom by experimenting with sex and drugs and dropping in and out of college. Yet surfing remained a constant throughout the chaos of his youth. In his mid-20s, he began an epic quest for the ultimate wave that took him to Guam, Samoa, Fiji, Australia, Java, and, eventually, Africa. Finnegan’s journals of his experiences form the backbone of his minutely detailed rendering of days spent sizing up swells and riding to glory. As brilliant and lucid as some of these descriptions are, they sometimes overwhelm the rest of the narrative, which includes, among many others, stories about the life-changing experiences in apartheid South Africa that turned him away from fiction and toward a career as a prominent journalist. The book nevertheless provides a fascinating look inside the mind of a man terminally in love with a magnificent obsession.
A lyrical and intense memoir.