Dig The Star's Peter Spacek in Surf-Mad, Pulitzer-Winning 'Barbarian Days'

William Finnegan, a staff writer for The New Yorker, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography on Monday for his memoir, "Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life," the spellbinding story of a coming of age of a sport and a man.

"Barbarian Days" unravels the inexplicable obsession and the magic of surfing, carrying the reader from the author's youth in Hawaii in the 1960s and '70s through his journey in his 20s across Polynesia, the South Pacific, and South Africa. Along the way he discovers one of the great waves on the planet and nourishes his almost anthropological curiosity for the nature of people and places — from Tonga to Australia, Fiji to Cape Town.

No stranger to the South Fork, Finnegan hosted a book signing last summer at Pilgrim Surf and Supply in Amagansett, and is known to chase waves around here with, among others, his friend Peter Spacek, an illustrator and cartoonist whose work appears weekly in The Star.

Spacek himself appears in the book, notably in a scene in giant, killer surf on the island of Madeira when Finnegan, now middle-aged and a father, comes face to face with the seminal but simple question: Why do I do this crazy thing?

And the answer — like the surf sirens who won't let him go — wells up, almost effortlessly. "A set rolled through, shining and roaring in the low winter afternoon sun, and my throat clogged with emotion — some nameless mess of joy, fear, love, lust, gratitude."

Finnegan's honesty, immense curiosity, and penetrating powers of observation about the world, about friendship, and about the difficult choices in life make his story compelling and his voice so appealing. But it's his tumultuous relationship to surfing — surfing's hold on him — that separates this memoir from so many others.