Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, Book review

by Pascal
Published: Last Updated:
barbarian days william finnegan ©

barbarian days a surfing life ©

On wave-rich surf trips, we usually try to spend as many hours in the water as possible. After this, we’re too tired to do many other physical activities, and we want nothing else than to rest our spaghetti arms and stimulate our sun-cooked brain.

The thing we usually like most to do after surfing is to talk about surfing, right? But it’s refreshing to meet likeminded people who have something more between their ears than only salt water. And to have a conversation about what happens in this world beyond the next reef.

But then again, we’re surfers. We’re passionate about something that takes so much time, energy and effort in our life, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Some of us live that surfer/traveler lifestyle a bit, some others a bit more, but there is always someone who took it a step further. And if we meet those people, the cliché says, we’re sitting around a brush fire, and listen to those stories with a million stars over our heads.

brushfire mexico ©

Well… more likely we’re sitting on a shitty, half broken plastic chair, with the cheapest lights over our heads, and a few too many empty beer bottles on the table! And exactly those nights are as much part of a great surf trip, as the stories from that stranger are an inspiration to plan our next adventure!

Let’s take a few steps back from that romantic idea of the life-changing stranger and his tales over a few Coronas or Bintangs. We’re back from a marathon surf session, and nothing better than to relax in the shadow with something to drink and a good book. Give your body time to relax and get your grey cells active.

Over the years and all my trips, I read countless books. Some of them were just killing time, and that’s okay. Others taught me something, and a few were inspirational.

Barbarian Days is all of this and way more!

indonesia barbarian days ©

My personal Barbarian Days somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Not gonna tell you where this is…

It’s a book, everyone who is just slightly obsessed with surfing, or starts falling in love with it, has to read.

I would recommend it even more to someone who doesn’t surf but wants to understand people who surf a bit better.

It tells you about a childhood, were boys were still allowed to brawl, get hurt, and learn how to deal with it. It’s about growing up in a harsh world, preparing for real Barbarian Days. The book holds stories for you about the old days in Hawaii and gives you an idea of how it has changed. It shows you the way of someone who decides to follow his dreams, rather than going down a well-paved path that society wants you to believe you have to “choose”.

Barbarian Days tells the tale of how someone puts so much effort into something he wants and finds his own way through life. (Winning a Pulitzer Prize is more than a statement of achievement and success after all). It’s full of anecdotes about waves you’ve seen a thousand times on pictures but didn’t know how it was to surf them before they became well known. How misery and euphoria can be twins, and how there’s always a way… if you’re willing to find your own way.

It has enough unbelievable stories between its covers to make it another terrible Hollywood try to make a surf movie (please not!), but thanks to William Finnegan’s well-polished style of writing, it seriously feels like one of those brush fire encounters…

In my eyes, only one part of the book (OC) was stretched a bit too much, where I’d rather had a few more stories from deep in the South Pacific. But maybe that’s just me.

indonesia surf ©

I followed rumors, traveled to an island far away from everywhere and took a ferry plus a wooden canoe to get here. And it gives me only the slightest idea of what traveling “back in the days” was like…

Half a century of surf culture and trips, the life and thoughts of an interesting character and a fantasy-boost much stronger than any social media!

It only leaves you wishing for two things…

#1: That the book didn’t already end.


#2: That you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, but instead embark on an open-end surf trip!

Sound like you need it?

Here is your copy!


  • Pascal

    Born and raised in Switzerland, Pascal took up skiing and snowboarding from a very young age. Surfing came pretty naturally after that! He's since written for various Surf Mag’s, captured waves around the world and has even competed for a couple of years.

    View all posts

You may also like


Christopher June 15, 2018 - 5:44 pm

Hi, liebe Bücher, Bilder und tolle Geschichten die dahinter stecken! Wäre der Hammer und kriegt nen tollen Platz in der Wohnung.

LG Christopher

Lucas Hammerer June 16, 2018 - 5:25 am

Ich brauche eine neue Inspiration für mein Leben und dieses Buch klingt ja sehr viel versprechend!!!
Würde mich sehr freuen.

Markus June 16, 2018 - 5:51 am

Ich bin immer auf der Suche nach schönen Geschichten rund ums Surfen und dieses Buch klingt super.

Tina Kesseboom June 16, 2018 - 8:58 am

Ich muss irgendwie meine Surf freie Zeit überbrücken und nichts geht besser als mit diesem tollen Buch in dem man so tief eintauchen kann das man das Gefühl hat man wäre dabei.
Lg Tina

Gabriel Wappler June 18, 2018 - 8:32 pm

Surf – Eat – Read – Sleep – Repeat. So sieht mein Surfer Alltag aus. Man ist nach einer Surf Session körperlich kaputt aber mit dem Buch kann man immer noch “Mind surfing”

Philip Mappes June 18, 2018 - 9:36 pm

Da es heutzutage ja eher schwierig ist Orte zu finden und Wellen zu surfen an denen nicht schon tausende Menschen vor dir waren wäre es zumindest ein kleiner Trost über die Geschichten von jemandem lesen zu können der die “good old times” noch erlebt hat. Vielleicht ist es nur ein kleiner Trost, vielleicht aber auch eine gute Motivation für den nächsten Surftrip 😉

Benedek Sarkany June 19, 2018 - 6:50 am

Brauch ich, danke!

Nicole Kocher June 20, 2018 - 12:05 am

Cause I wanted to purchase it amyway at some point 🙂

smallwavesurfer June 24, 2018 - 2:18 pm

“It’s a book, everyone who is just slightly obsessed with surfing, or starts falling in love with it, has to read.”

Genau an dieser Stelle bin ich- zwei Wochen Surferfahrung, überall Muskelkater und gierig nach mehr. Wäre super Lektüre für den nächsten Trip in zwei Wochen!

Daniel June 25, 2018 - 11:47 am

Weil ich dieses Jahr noch die atlantikküste Portugals abfahren will und dann am Abend eine gutes Buch das beste ist was einem passieren kann 🙂

Kerstin June 28, 2018 - 7:23 am

Duke Kahanamoku – the Godfather of Modern Surfing! ‍♀️

Anne Wendt June 30, 2018 - 6:29 am

Leseratte + leidenchaftliche surferin = ich muss dieses Buch auf jeden Fall lesen.

Heiko R. July 7, 2018 - 9:21 pm

Es klingt nach Freiheit und Inspiration.
Außerdem benötige ich ein neues Buch

Stand Up Paddle Boards August 1, 2018 - 7:19 am

If you are true surf lover and want to enjoy you can easily take the benefit of this book as this book contains real stories of surfing where you can easily fall in it and enhance your surfing experience well. One who has true spirit of surfing must have to buy and read this book.

Chris July 19, 2019 - 10:38 pm

I’m not a surfer, or a wanderer. But, this book makes me dream of being both. From the 60’s until today, William Finnigan’s love affair with the wave is inspiring and proof that a person can travel a different path, and still “make it” out the other side. Great book.


Leave a Comment