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William Finnegan, born the eldest of four children to Patricia and Bill Finnegan in New York City in 1952 is an international journalist and staff writer at The New Yorker. His father was a well-known television and film producer responsible for Hawaii Five-O and The Fabulous Baker Boys. William was raised in Los Angeles and Hawaii, graduating with a degree in Literature in 1974. He spent several years travelling while studying and working in odd jobs, which included freelance travel writing and teaching English to coloured high school students in Africa. His first book, published in 1986, Crossing the line: A Year in the Land of Apartheid grew from his experience is that country. This began his journey as a political journalist and reporter and the author of 5 books. He is often described as an articulate and expressive speaker.

Finnegan’s writings have focused on issues of racism, conflict, politics and culture in Southern Africa, Mexico, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Persian Gulf as well as juvenile poverty in the USA.

One of his most popular books, however, has been described as Finnegan finally “coming out of the surfing closet”. In his early years when he was writing about such serious topics as politics, apartheid, and wars, he was reluctant to confess to (let alone write about) his love and self-described addiction to something which society often overlooks. He need not have feared the critics as his autobiographical memoir Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life won numerous awards include the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Biography. This coming-of-age story based on his youthful obsession to master surfing, but which is full of love, family, friendships and the culture of the day, is told with such self-depreciating humour and insight that is a pleasurable read that many non-surfers will also enjoy. Taking up surfing as a child, Finnegan has been chasing waves all over the world for half a century. However, this well acclaimed, old-school adventure story is so much more than just about the surfing life. It is a social history, revealing life growing up in the upheavals of the 1960s. His surfing journeys take his readers with him on such adventures as bushwhacking through Polynesia, camping on an uninhabited island in Fiji, basking in the simplicity of a Samoa fishing village, dissecting the sexual politics of Tongan interactions, and navigating the Indonesian black marker.

An avid surfer to this day, his body of work includes well acclaimed articles on the surfing scene. William Finnegan continues writing and commentating on world and local events. He today lives in New York City with his wife Caroline Rule and daughter Mollie. Finnegan discusses his experience coaching Mollie’s rock climbing and eventually being coached on climbing by Mollie herself in his audio-book biography Climbing with Mollie (2020).

Featured Book

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses–off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships forged in challenging waves.

Finnegan shares stories of life in a whites-only gang in a tough school in Honolulu. He shows us a world turned upside down for kids and adults alike by the social upheavals of the 1960s. He details the intricacies of famous waves and his own apprenticeships to them. Youthful folly–he drops LSD while riding huge Honolua Bay, on Maui–is served up with rueful humor. As Finnegan’s travels take him ever farther afield, he discovers the picturesque simplicity of a Samoan fishing village, dissects the sexual politics of Tongan interactions with Americans and Japanese, and navigates the Indonesian black market while nearly succumbing to malaria. Throughout, he surfs, carrying readers with him on rides of harrowing, unprecedented lucidity.


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