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The Big Kahuna: A Video Chat with Pulitzer Prize Recipient William Finnegan

The Big Kahuna:  A Video Chat with Pulitzer Prize Recipient William Finnegan

 

 

INTRODUCTION: 2:10 min.

Introduction to William Finnegan.  Surfing video by Leo Zuckerman.

 

In April, 2016 William Finnegan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir Barbarian Days:  A Surfing Life.  For the rest of Bill’s life, whenever he is introduced or his name appears in print, he will be known as “Pulitzer Prize recipient William Finnegan.”

Finnegan has been a surfer since growing up in California and Hawaii.  He was also an enthusiastic writer and reader from an early age.  He became a New Yorker magazine staff writer in 1987.  In August, 1992 The New Yorker published Finnegan’s masterpiece article on surfing titled Playing Doc’s Games, which most surfers I know agree is the best surfing article ever written.

I have been a surfer since 1966.  I started surfing in Ocean City, NJ while I was in college in Philadelphia. When I moved to Manhattan after graduate school, I surfed on Long Island and in West End, NJ.  I even squeezed in some California surfing in Santa Barbara, Malibu, and Rincon, but for most of my adult life I lived on the northern tip of Cape Cod, where cold water surfable waves never exceed ten feet.

Bill Finnegan is a much better surfer than I am, and has challenged himself on much bigger waves in charted and uncharted waters.  Nevertheless, once one has attained a respectable level of surfing ability there is a common knowledge of how carving the face of a decent wave, which appears to last less than a minute from the perspective of the beach, can feel like a blissful eternity to the surfer.  Truly the Zen of surfing.

We interviewed Finnegan at the Miami Book Fair, MDC. The videos below are organized by topic and run between 30 seconds and 9 minutes. Tap on any video. You must be connected to the Internet to view the videos.

 

SERENDIPITY: 1:55 min.

What’s your earliest memory of thinking you could write well?

 

VOICE DEVELOPMENT:   8:44 min.

Describe the arc of your writing career.

 

SEIZES OPPORTUNITIES: 1:46 min.

Describe your relationship with the legendary “New Yorker” editor William Shawn.

 

SELF-CONFIDENCE:  7:09 min.

A lot of people were inspired by the film “Endless Summer” to travel about the world searching for the perfect wave, but very few people took that inspiration to the lengths that you did.  What were you thinking?

 

OVERCOMES CHALLENGES TO SUCCEED: 4:23 min.

How did you make the mental adjustment to start surfing 20 30 foot waves?

 

SELF-CONFIDENCE:  3:14 min.

In your book you describe surfing huge waves in the dark.  I only surfed at night once, but kept telling myself that I was going to die.  How could you do that in big waves?

 

UNDERSTANDS THE AUDIENCE PERSPECTIVE: 2:34 min.

Do non-surfers complain that there are too many surf scenes in “Barbarian Days?”

 

MIAMI OBSERVANT:  2:14 min.

What did you learn about Miami when you wrote a “New Yorker” piece about Jorge Ramos?

 

CRITICAL THINKING: 2:57 min.

What are your criteria for taking on a project?