surf music im slipping away from you

25 July 2008 16:16:00 AEST

How did it all start, how did it all go down. There are a few theories. What did early surfers listen to, Lounge Music? Imagine tapping away to a few disks of Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass prior to kneeling on your 12 foot spoon and pushing out to the point, maybe you'd have the James Bond Theme looping around in your head, the big horn finale peaking as you duck down for the el'quazimodo head dip? It works for me but not everyone else. Maybe it all went down a little something like this:


Two surfers sit at a table drinking Tom Collins Cocktails in highball glasses. Dick Dale moves onto

stage and commences playing.

SURFER #1 (to Surfer#2)

Wow man, is this music from the past or is it

being beamed in from the future?

SURFER #2 Sits down his drink and begins to click his fingers to the crazy beat.



Is that how it happened? Maybe not, but something happend in the late 1950's in the southern California melting pot of Rock and Roll, Jazz and Latin instrumentation. Dick Dale crawled out of the pot around 1957 as one of the more talented guitarists dedicated to the emerging style and Surf Music was born. Dick and his contemporarties travelled and explored the uses of improving amplifier and acoustic technology, creating the Surf Rock Sub culture. This sound probably culminated with the release of Dales Misirlou in 1962. The thrash surf guitar permeated through into a mainstream audience. Dale recalls he night he and his band first played Misirlou:

"..I still remember the first night we played it ("Misirlou"). I changed the tempo, and just started cranking on that mother. was eerie. The people came rising up off the floor, and they were chanting and stomping. I guess that was the beginning of the surfer's stomp."1

At around the same time, alternate musicians experimented with the purist mellow soul of surfing itself and created Surf Music more centred and reflective. By 1966 when Bruce Brown released his definitive work, The Endless Summer; it was the haunting soundtrack by The Sandals that would ensure the films place as a cultural icon of it's generation.

I remember walking along a streetl in Waikiki in 2002 and heard a passer by whistling the opening score of Endless Summer one winters afternoon. I looked around and caught sign of a faded surf hat blending with the crowd and he was gone. The music lasted alot longer however; i was back there, 17 years old watching Endless summer for my first time at sea with the Navy-true repository for those desperate to understand just how much ocean you can fit into your life. Like most 17 year olds in 1990, my understanding of surf culture was limited to the neon fluro experiements of the 1980's as emerging surf brands giggled up their sleeves at just how easy it was to sell this ridiculous crap to the kids. After watching endless Summer I began to realsie that there was so much more.

It is perhaps ironic that many of the better known Surf Music bands or performers aren't actually surfers themselves, The Beach Boys are the better know example of this phenomena but there are many others. Perhaps it is the fascination with an act that the performer doesent fully undertstand but wonders at that prompts genius. There will always be room for Jack Johnsonesque ASP Tour reflections and ruminations but that wonder that comes from musicians that worship the ocean from afar can be like lightning in a bottle.

I havent heard any good new surf music for a long time. I dont watch many new surfing movies anymore either, they started to bore me a long time ago. Those that I do watch I turn the sound down and put on something that at least vaguely reminds me of the ocean, as opposed to the offering on hand which is typically reminisent of a failed 15 year old Silverchair wannabee garage band.

Music being the subjective artform that it is, everyone has their own song that evokes memories of surfing and the ocean. Personally, mines from one of those non surfing group of musicians. I cant go past, Electic Light Orchesta's (Jeff Lynne) Cant Get it Out of My Head.

Midnight, on the water,

I saw the ocean's daughter,

Walking on the wave's chicane

Staring as she called my name.


And I can't get it out of my head,

No, I can't get it out of my head.

Now my old world is gone for dead

'Cause I can't get it out of my head.

Breakdown, on the shoreline,

Can't move, it's an ebbtide,

Morning don't get here tonight,

Searching for her silver light.

Bank job, in the city,

Robin Hood and William Tell and

Ivanhoe and Lancelot,

They don't envy me,

Sitting 'til the sun goes down,

In dreams the world keeps going

round and round.2

I hear this song and I'm 20 years old again, travelling around the South Pacific in search of Santosha Island, trade winds blowing frangipani perfume across French Polynesia.

The team here at Surfing Atlas have gone through their own vinyl collections in an attempt to find their own magical songs, a few are attached below, some recognised classics, others; deeply disturbing - stark reminder of the madhouse I am forced to create my craft from within - enjoy!




1. "Washed out for a decade, surf's up again," Los Angeles Timess, February 1, 1981

2. "ELO / Lynne - Cant Get It Out of My Head" © SONY / BMG 2008

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