The best book on surfing was written by a war reporter

'Barbarian Days' by William Finnegan
'Barbarian Days' by William Finnegan
Courtesy of Penguin Press

William Finnegan is best known for his bylines in The New Yorker, for covering armed conflicts in Sudan or Mozambique.

But his memoir is all about surfing.

Long before he became an award-winning reporter, Finnegan fell in love with the waves. His family moved from California to Hawaii when he was thirteen, and he took every opportunity to paddle out into the Pacific.

He wrote all about the waves and the racially tense world of his Honolulu public school in letters to his best friend back in California. A few years ago, that friend shipped Finnegan a box full of his detailed notes. They served as the foundation for the first chapter of his memoir.

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The book, "Barbarian Days," follows Finnegan and his surf obsession around the world, through Fiji, Tonga and Southeast Asia. There are brushes with death — both on the water and off — and an enormous appreciation of the perfect wave.

Finnegan's career has now stationed him in New York, but that doesn't mean he doesn't surf: He takes to the beaches of New York and New Jersey, even during the winter, surfing waves that few people do.

Even landlocked readers have embraced his memoir: It was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2015.

To hear the full discussion with William Finnegan about his memoir, "Barbarian Days," use the audio player above.