Writer’s Symposium Brings Legendary Surf Writer William Finnegan to PLNU

Photo credit to Wolf Gang on Flickr.

Point Loma Nazarene University has a rich surf culture. Its proximity to the ocean makes it an ideal school for a surfer to get their degree. Among the surfing privileges at this school, there’s also a great opportunity for students to hear amazing writers share their stories in Brown Chapel at the annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. 

This year, students and, more specifically, surfers, have the opportunity to hear William Finnegan, the author of “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” speak. Finnegan won a Pulitzer Prize for this memoir detailing how his life has centered around surfing from a young age. 

Finnegan has lived a surfer’s dream. He spent part of his childhood on Oahu and got exposed to amazing waves and surfers as his parents produced television shows. He experienced the shortboard revolution when he was 15 years old, and as Finnegan describes in his book, “with a solid command of the basics, I was at a good age to make the switch to shortboards.” 

Later, he dropped out of college and moved to Maui with a girlfriend to surf Honolua Bay, a beautiful right hand point break. Finnegan then traveled the world in search of the perfect wave, a search that he dubbed “the endless winter.” He stumbled upon an unknown wave at the time, now known as Tavarua, along his travels in the South Pacific.

He lived in Australia for a bit and became a regular surfer at Kirra. He then bummed around Indonesia and eventually ended up in Africa where he became a schoolteacher. He finally settled down in San Francisco and became familiar with the locals at the notoriously gnarly Ocean Beach. 

At heart, Finnegan was a writer, and along his travels, Finnegan wrote. Specifically, he honed in on the issues of apartheid in South Africa and became an international journalist for the New Yorker. He currently lives in New York where he continues to write for the New Yorker. 

Now, his journey has led him to the surfer-infested Nazarene university on San Diego Bay’s peninsula, known as PLNU. It’s no doubt that PLNU is a surf heavy school, even many of the people who don’t surf are dying to learn. So, when an influential voice in surfing comes to speak, it means PLNU’s community of surfers is being heard. 

Finnegan has lived a life that most PLNU surfers daydream about in their 8 a.m. lectures. He’s gotten the chance to surf the best waves in the world and immerse himself in the cultures around them, all while doing it in a world without multi-million dollar surf resorts and a cell phone telling him where to go. 

Finnegan’s overarching theme throughout his book is how his surfing addiction has guided his life. He describes it as this: “When you surf, as I then understood it, you live and breathe waves. You always know what the surf is doing. You cut school, lose jobs, lose girlfriends, if it’s good.”

Finnegan was able to encapsulate this feeling of a euphoric addiction in his memoir and since then has become a prominent figure in surfing and writing. Surfers at PLNU are no exception to this addiction and lifestyle. After all, there’s a reason why there’s a mad rush to get the closest dorm to the ocean every year. Surfing has guided the lives of many PLNU surfers; they wouldn’t be at the school if it wasn’t so. 

Over the summer I got the chance to read Finnegan’s memoir and was incredibly moved by his knowledge of the ocean and wave-riding. He writes about surfing with such elegance and care that even non-surfers will grasp the intense feelings that the sport brings. 

I’m eager to hear Finnegan speak about his experiences from his memoir. Like Finnegan I’ve been able to immerse myself in the surf cultures around me. From growing up on Kauai to attending PLNU, I’ve always been surrounded by surfing. I too, like many people, was drawn to this school because of the opportunity to surf whenever I pleased. After reading “Barbarian Days”, I realized how important a community is to the surf spot and that is very apparent here at PLNU. 

PLNU has an amazing surfing community. From the six-time national champion surf team to the once-a-month wavestorm surfers, surfing runs deep in the veins of this school. The fact that William Finnegan, being a prominent modern day surf writer, is speaking at PLNU displays how strong our surf culture is. It’s an important milestone in the school’s surf history. 

Finnegan is set to speak at Brown Chapel on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Student tickets are $5 and can be purchased at https://www.pointloma.edu/opportunities/writers-symposium-sea

Written By: Steve Anderson