Book Review: “A Surfing Life” by William Finnegan

“A Surfing Life”, by William Finnegan

For those who have never surfed and never aspired to, this book may serve to offer insight into the obsessive nature and culture of the sport. However, the descriptions of waves and ocean dynamics, and pages about “making” a wave (and what that means), might cause you to question why you picked this tome. For the rest of us—those of us who have dabbled, aspired to surf, tried to learn when we’re probably too old, or have admired surfing for the visual beauty of the sport—for us, this book is an opportunity to get a glimpse of where we may never go: the green room, the long ride, the perfect wave, the mind of the surfer.

Finnegan’s youthful global surfing oddysey, which gradually continued into middle age, is filled with the adventures of a generation. His language is lyrical and fluid. It’s not all drug or wave inspired reverie and mysticism. Finnegan struggles as a writer, struggles with family, with relationships, and with his devotion and addiction to surfing. He has concerns about (real estate) “development”. Like many tourists who discover an untouched paradise, he hopes his discoveries remain pristine. (They don’t.) He laments the commercialization of Tavurua, where he and some others found “the perfect wave”. In later years he sees the EU-ization of the island of Madeira.

It’s all good until this paradox plays out for him in his stinging diatribe about competition in a sport that is largely non-competitive, the intrusion of corporate culture and mass media, and the popularization of the sport itself. He writes, “Still I find it unsettling when random Manhattanites jauntily announce that they surf. Oh yes, they say, they learned how on vacation last summer in Costa Rica.”

Now wait a minute. And he has gone on about this elsewhere:

“I wish, selfishly, that surfing would become uncool, leaving the waves to a few die-hards. That’s not going to happen. What is going to happen, most likely, is the Olympics, and another wave of growth and commercialization.”
“Surf for Love not for Gold”, from the New York Times

Bill dude, I will never be a surfer of your calibre or experience, and I enjoyed and recommend your book, but please don’t pick on casual surfers! We’re not groms, maybe some are posers, but mostly we’re newbies. We’re not trying to be “cool”. We want that ride. We want that wave. Just like you.

Peace out.

—Christo

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