There's nothing quite like driving up the Pacific Coast Highway and listening to Jack Johnson to me; or riding with friends to a foreign break, jamming to Sublime as we anticipate the unknown session ahead. Music and surfing go hand in hand, and so I thought I'd examine the sounds of surfing as a little history lesson, and to inspire your next ride out to the beach.
Music is a tricky thing in that it's tough to pin down where a certain genre began, usually starting in some hole-in-the-wall club where another artist hears it and then makes it popular. As far as we know, one of the major pioneers of surf rock is Dick Dale, who claimed that signature lead guitar sound found in his most popular tune, "Miserlou."
A parody of surf music from the film "Top Secret!"
This instrumental sound continued for a few years before acts like the Beach Boys and the Surfaris added their multi-part vocal harmonies to really nail down that 60's surf sound. You know, songs like "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Wipeout." Theirs was the peak of popularity for the genre, but as surfing is a bit rebellious in nature, so goes the music; and as this music got popular, there was some push back from local surf communities who thought the mainstream sound didn't necessarily capture the essence of surfing.
As time went on, surf music went more underground, finding its way in punk rock throughout the 70's and 80's. By the time the 90's came around, punk remained, but reggae mixed in, resulting in bands like Sublime, Slightly Stoopid and the Orange County Supertones. Ska (the punk/reggae genre) arguably had its biggest cultural influence during the Third Wave of the 90's, with the epicenter being in Southern California. So it's no wonder why the genre fits so well with the skater/surfer culture we all love and enjoy.
As we entered the new millennium, one man rose to the forefront of society to define a genre that became synonymous with beach life: Jack Johnson. I'm sure he wasn't the first to invent that laid-back acoustic style, but he was certainly the one who made it popular. And coming from a background of surfing and surf filmmaking, his music naturally fit the sway and sounds of the ocean.
Things have changed a little since then, but this reggae-influenced, easy-going style is still the sound of summer for me and many like-minded surfers. Mixed with the ska I grew up listening to, these are the songs you'll hear in my car as I head to the beach. I'll be drumming on the steering wheel, maybe singing out loud and with a board on the roof. So if you see me, give me a wave, sing along and follow me to the beach!