What Is Surf
Part IV: Do Surfers Play Surf Music?
What is the involvement of surfers in Surf Music? When a surfer plays a song, does that
make it Surf Music? Is a song a surf song if a surfer likes it? If it makes you wanna surf,
is it a surf song?
At the annual Santa Cruz long board soiree back
in '88, the Phantom Surfers were the guest band...dry dock surfers all. During an interlude,
I was kibitzing with all around great guy & longboarder Dan Young, when I mentioned my surf show. His eyes
lit up and he boasted "I have a surfband!". Excitedly, I asked what the name was,
and he said "the Square Roots." He sent me a demo, on which I discovered that
they were a really cool reggae/ska band populated by surfers. This story repeated itself numerous
times over the past decade, with bands like Bug (Web Fingers of San Francisco
commercial alternative radio Live 105) and DI, both Punk bands manned
There's the notion that songs about surfing are surf music, and this is harder to argue against,
unless the purist instro definition is applied. Think about the wacky & wonderful Surf
Punks. Here, you have a bunch of surf rats playing keyboard oriented modern ugly dance
drum machine-esq music about surfing and the surf life style. Totally killer stuff, but is
it surf? Farther affield, are bands like the Surf M.C.'s (a studio/label concoction) and Thermo (ex-Half Church) who played incredibly
great Surf Rap and were surfers all, or at least skate punks. Is it surf? Well...
On the lighter side of the aisle, the Closet Surfers play a cool post-Oingo Boingo brand
of neo-new age music that certainly appeals to surfers and calls to the sea. They use surf
videos in their shows, and they are very entertaining. They are surfers. Their 2 CDs are good.
I enjoy listening to them. I play their stuff occasionally on Surf's Up! But,
is it surf music?
Long time surf legend and well like surfer Corky Carroll has been recording for what
seems like a millennium. I first heard Corky's "Skateboard Bill" and
wondered why a surfer would play a country tune about skate boarding kids? Corky's music is
enjoyable, and I'd guess he's entertaining to see. His latest CD is getting closer with more
instros including a peaceful Hawaiian guitar track that is hypnotic and beautiful. Still, where's
Longboard ace Denny Aaberg records "surf music" (translates blues),
and has even sat in with the Eliminators at events in front of friends (surfers). His
brand of the blues is good, but calling it surf music is one gigantic leap of illogic unless
you believe in the if-surfers-play-it dogma.
The notion that surfers making music is surf music is a bit like saying anything Al Capone tinkled
out on his grand piano was punk rock 'cuz he was a punk, Bill Clinton's sax drones are
progressive pop-rock because he is a progressive socialist, or undertakers play death rock.
The reverse would then also have to hold true, such as all punk bands are bootleggers, or all
progressive socialist politicians play prog, etc. Even worse, if you link such unrelated segments,
what do you do with siblings... Darryl Dragon (Captain & Tennielle) and Dennis
Dragon (Surf Punks) are both either surf punk beach bums or sappy MOR pop singers.
Well, maybe that's a bad example, but you get the drift. All blacks don't vote democrat any
more than all surfers who play in bands are in surfbands. It's a ludicrous argument on it's
The connection between surf music, surfing and surfers is tenuous at best. Historically, surf
music was not about surfing, it was simply the adoption by surfers of instrumentals. Anything
instrumental was surf music in their minds. In the minds of the musicians, the definition narrowed
quickly to exclude all but the Orange County Sound and the South Bay Sound, and in hindsight,
primarily the Orange County Sound. According to Thom Starr's CD liner notes, Dick
Dale was not a really surfer. He spent hours with the photographer to get up enough to
shoot the picture on the cover of Surfer's Choice. In response to the question "Do
you still surf?" he told me in an interview in 1986 that he "hadn't been out for
20 years" and that "the only thing I use a surf board for now is to carrying my guitar".
Surf was not a creation of surfers. Paul Johnson never had anything to do with surfing.