Barbarian Days

In 2011, I remember talking to a friend who had just returned from years living in Brazil. He had learned how to surf while he lived there. His descriptions of the meditative, spiritual side of surfing piqued my attention. How could a physical activity have these meta-physical effects? I’ve never gotten the chance to find out for myself but Barbarian Days further grew my curiosity.

Much like H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s memoir about bereavement and falconry, I didn’t really think I would be captivated by a coming of age surfing story. And also like H is for Hawk, I found myself entranced because of the voice and quality of writing that Finnegan brings to this book. His descriptions of waves, of his relationships with other surfers, his adventures around the globe, his preternatural understanding of the dynamics of the sea, are enough to make you feel like you’re having a metaphysical experience all your own.

There were many times throughout the book that I found myself thinking, “wow, it must be nice to be a good looking white guy traveling around the world, receiving help from locals wherever you go, coming off completely non-threatening.” And I can’t begrudge Finnegan for getting to live the life he has lived. But it did make me pause to wonder if I, or the majority of other people in the world, would be afforded the same luxuries. In writing this book, though, he has done the next best thing – written a story for any of us to experience the world of surfing through him.