Tag Archives: Surfing

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.


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Surf School in Costa Rica

July 22, 2012

In the air
Since there is no cellular capability in my iPhone, and no Wi Fi on the plane for my iPad, I am out of touch with the Inkernet, and the rest of the electronic world for the first time in recent memory. Even at 5000 feet in the cow town backwoods of Elko, there is at least spotty cellular. Not here.

So, a chance to write.

I’m out of my element. This place is paradise. But another day or two, and I’ll be more laid back. It is really…not sure what the best word is. Primitive. We have some of the amenities – like Internet. But there is no phone service unless I walk to the cafe down the road. Speaking of the roads, they are almost impassable – rutted dirt – most people here ride dirt bikes or quads to get around. We are surrounded by jungle, with the beach just a bit down the road. The hotel is a loose affiliation of relatively new buildings constructed of stone or stucco with tin or tile roofs. Between them and the small pool and lounging deck is the bar/restaurant, wood pole construction in classic “tiki-bar” style, essentially open on three of four sides. There are paths around the lush gardens leading to a few private tables, to the laundry and office, and to the board rack and shower – I don’t think this is actual rain forest here, but it is tropical. I’ve heard but not seen interesting birds except hummingbirds. There are howler monkeys and iguanas, and sea turtles, also which I have not yet seen. Many of the surfing teachers have dogs, and they are accepted as part of the community.

Speaking of which, it’s been a long time since I have been around a community of surfers. I forgot how odd they are. The men are all beautiful, absolutely ripped, almost invariably with thick shaggy hair – depending on ethnicity, they are blond, or they have dark hair bleached by the sun. If they are of a background that gives them the right kind of hair, they have pony tails or dreadlocks. If they are old, they look young. A few, I think the older men, have short or shaved hair like mine. Most are tattooed, some extensively. They are all relaxed, comfortable with their bodies, part of nature, at ease in the moment.

The women are a bit harder to characterize, but they seem to fall into two classes: those who surf “inside” and those who go “outside”. “Inside” is in the foam, after the big waves break, closer to shore. That’s where the novices learn the basics, or play if they never graduate to the big waves. I rank these girls in the same group as those who don’t surf at all, but who are definitely part of the scene. The women who go “outside” are pretty much accepted as equals by the experienced male surfers. Though I’m not sure, I think you can pick them out – at the beach because they are carrying boards-away from the beach, because they stand tall and straight, and have confidence, and talk with the men about what the men talk about – the waves, the tide, the ride, because they know, as the men know, that they love the water, and there is nothing else that is so important, no love that matters more, than the next wave, the next long ride.

This is the heart of the surfer. They love life, they are in the flow, they live in the moment, it is about the experience, their experience, and not about thought, past, or memory, or anyone else.

Hang Ten,


Sent from my iPad