Barbarian Days by William Finnegan

Since reading Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, I’ve been fascinated by people who choose to dedicate their life to doing one thing really well.

Finnegan would likely not describe his decades of surfing as an attempt at mastery—he was not a professional surfer, and never admitted to any aspirations of becoming one. But he was undoubtedly immersed in the practice, and found value in his life there. His level of experience made that feeling possible. Finnegan shows that there’s a deep sense of satisfaction—happiness—that can arise from dedication to a craft.

“Was ‘surfing’ even what I was doing? I chased waves instinctively, got appropriately stoked when it was good, got thoroughly immersed in working out the puzzle of a new spot. Still, peak moments were, by definition, few and far between. Most sessions were unremarkable. What was consistent was a certain serenity that followed a rigorous session. It was physical, this post-surf mood, but it had a distinct emotionality too… After particularly intense tubes or wipeouts, I felt a charged and wild inclination to weep, which could last for hours.”

I’ve been surfing only a handful of times, but Finnegan made me feel like I’ve been going for a lifetime. He eases the reader into the terminology, skillfully demonstrating what it feels like to be in expert in the art.