If there’s anything that sets up a good day of surfing, its playing that perfect song to get you in the head space on the walk, drive, or bike ride to the beach. How did music become such an important aspect to surfing? That feel can’t be expressed with words alone. Take a trip down time with scenes from surfing’s history, and the songs that brought those scenes to life. Most of the links included have the scenes from the movie I am referencing, so check them out to get an idea of the picture they help paint. All of the movies are pretty easily accessed online otherwise for free or to rent. I definitely recommend watching them to see how surfing evolved.
So where did it begin? Music has been intertwined with surfing since its inception into pop culture in the late 1950’s. The feel of surfing’s mainstream culture at the time was captured in songs by bands like the Beach Boys. The best surf music from that time captured an entirely different aspect: the wave. Songs like Wipeout by the Surfaris, Let’s Go Trippin’ by Dick Dale, and Pipeline by the Chantays were songs soaked in reverb and the haphazard feeling of surfing. Dick Dale, the undisputed father of surf guitar once said about bands like the Beach Boys, “They were surfing sounds [with] surfing lyrics. In other words, the music wasn't surfing music. The words made them surfing songs. ... That was the difference ... the real surfing music is instrumental.” This concept of making sound express a physical feeling like surfing was hard to grasp, but it makes sense when you close your eyes and listen. Surf music as a defined genre began to unravel as time went on, but music’s place in surfing was far from over.
In 1966, a monumental leap was made for the surfing world. Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer, arguably the greatest surf movie, was released. The soundtrack that voiced the spirit of the surfing and adventure was entirely instrumental surf music by the Sandals. Standouts like Driftin’ and TR-6 carry that feeling of energy and mystery that surrounded what was one of the most legendary surf trips of all time. Surf movies are made to showcase the surfing, but they also bring to life the location, feel, and adventure of the trip. The soundtrack helps bridge that gap in our minds between our own reality and theirs. It brings us to that perfect right hand point break in the 1960’s.
Music began to evolve, and so did the soundtracks to surf movies. Probably the most influential movie of the 1970’s, Morning of the Earth introduced a more energized mix of music. The song Awake by Ticket (Ticket - Awake) is reminiscent of music Carlos Santana was producing at that time. It was a mix of high energy guitar licks, lots of drums, and positive vocals that have you working towards the edge of your seat with energy as you watch the perfect waves reel off and scenes of mysterious far away places are transported to your living room.
The early 90’s was the start of iconic surf director Taylor Steele’s career. Taylor Steele’s early works, like Momentum, were loaded with high energy punk music. Kelly Slater’s part in Momentum, back in the days when he had hair, started with him getting his butt kicked in boxing, and it featured an edgy backdrop of raw surfing and Anesthesia by Bad Religion. (Bad Religion - Anesthesia) Anesthesia was something he would’ve needed after those punches to the head. Lost carried on this tradition in movies like Lost Across America. A scene with Andy and Bruce Irons, where the brothers are acting like brothers, is backed by I Don’t Care by Black Flag. The pinnacle is in Lost Across America Vol II, where the depravity of their actions are characterized by Sublime’s song What Happened. The song opens up with one of them sliding down a giant concrete drainage slide standing on a boogie board, and the insanity that the Lost team was known for at that time continues for the duration of the song and beyond. It’s the
Newer Taylor Steele movies and movies by surfers like Dane Reynolds and John John Florence have a cool feel with a lot more electronic influence to their soundtracks. Kai Nevelle, another big surf director, made award winning Dear Suburbia. The movie starred Dane Reynolds, and it featured John Maus’ downtempo remix of Cop Killer
from Ice Cube’s metal rap band Body Count. The slow, but powerfully intense music is perfect with Dane Reynold’s powerfully intense surfing. Dane Reynolds eclectic style of surfing and music is a highlight in all his movies.
John John Florence’s View From a Blue Moon was highlighted with cool tracks, but the most memorable is probably Tongues by Joywave. Its fast, fun, and childlike beats and words flow effortlessly together with John John’s surfing. The heavy erratic West Oz waves never looked, or sounded, so playful.
My all time favorite surf soundtrack is in Days of Strange by Taylor Steele. Scenes of paradise projected with the sounds that highlight the excitement of traveling to and surfing such beautiful places with the best surfers from around the world. The song Mother Afrika by 25 Hours A Day hits the high mark of its influence when the song takes a step back and the guitar lick plays with a low white noise sound in the background that sounds like spray coming off the back of the wave on an offshore day. The wave sets up in the sunlight as guys park themselves into super long crystal blue barrels that peel perfectly over the reef. The beat drum beat starts to kick in slightly as the one guy is stalling with half his body. Then the beat runs off again as he lets go and soars down the line and the seemingly endless barrels continue with the beat.
Surfing and music will always be linked. The feeling that you get from surfing is not easy to put into words, but music carries its beat more easily. It gets you psyched for the paddle out, and it keeps you focused on the road to the adventure ahead. It also brings you back to moments from the lineup you have left in your head. Turn the volume up, and listen to the sounds that surf your soul.