William Finnegan wins most prestigious prize in journalism for his book Barbarian Days…
One year ago, the New Yorker staffer William Finnegan loosed his two-decades-in-the-making surf memoir Barbarian Days.
At the time, I expected a genteel read, a not particularly rigorous examination of a part-time surfer, a big-city fucker who dared to assume that he could reveal the mysteries of the game.
Instead, I was thrown under the bus of a two-day obsessive read. As I wrote at the time, I’d only penetrated three chapters into the book when we suddenly camping on Maui waiting for Honolua Bay to break and, shortly after, camping on the empty beach at Tavarua for a week and surfing a new discovery called Restaurants.
Soon, Grajagan in 1979, Africa and, later, among the big-wave surfers of Ocean Beach, San Francisco, and, then, spending long vacations on Madeira, waiting for Jardim Do Mar’s heavy deep-water right to break.
Photos scattered through the pages showed the author to have visible obliques, was long-haired and tanned. Finnegan was, is, a… stud?
I wasn’t the only one in thrall to Finnegan.
The Wall Street Journal called it “gorgeously written and intensely felt… dare I say that we all need Mr Finnegan… as a role model for a life, thrillingly, lived.”
The LA Times said, “It’s also about a writer’s life and, even more generally, a quester’s life, more carefully observed and precisely rendered than any I’ve read in a long time.”
And, announced only thirty minutes ago at Columbia University, Barbarian Days has won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. The prize committee praised it as, “A finely crafted memoir of a youthful obsession that has propelled the author through a distinguished writing career.”
The Pulitzer Prize, of course, is America’s most prestigious award in journalism. It also includes ten thousand dollars in prize money to each category winner.
Last year, when I asked Finnegan if he thought surfing was elevating or just another pointless pursuit he wrote, “It’s supremely useless, I think, and not at all ennobling. Which is not to say that a great many people, starting with you and me, don’t get a great deal out of it – even a reason to live. It just does nothing, obviously, for anybody else. It’s the ultimate selfish pursuit. You could argue that it teaches its devotees a few things about self-reliance and the grandeur of Nature – maybe even a little humility – and I guess I wouldn’t argue with that. But in the end surfing, in my opinion, does little or nothing to build or improve character. As we all know, a lot of assholes surf, and some of them surf well.”
On the plus side, “a lot of my best friends surf, and it can be a great deep thing to share with people you really like,” he wrote. “Non-surfers are certainly never going to understand it.”
Read about Barbarian Days, here.