Why is it called surf music? Music and surfing are inseparable. Their kinship goes back to the ukulele no doubt as Hawaiians recomposed amidst post-olo board sessions (picture Eddie and Clyde Aikau chillin' around a fire after a Waimea session, ukulele and some cold ones in hand) , but the term "surf music" waxed electric a generation later as Californian beach culture exploded. 1960's acts like Duane Eddy and The Ventures developed the instrumental rhythms that would stoke legions of surfers. The sound was honed to perfection by Dick Dale and exploded in beautiful absurdity via The Surfaris' "Wipeout." While the genre faded as the 70's approached, surfers still turned to music as fuel and therapy. But as the years went on, the sounds of such giants as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Lynard Skynard, and the Stones showed how difficult surf music was becoming to categorize, but the power to amp was always the secret ingredient.
Reportedly, Rabbit looked to David Bowie for tunes to get tubed by while Tom Curren looked back to the Who to inspire his swooping cutbacks.
The 80's saw the rise of the modern surf flick and bands featured in movies like "Son of the Last Surf Movie," "The Performers," and "Mad Wax" became synonymous with pre-surf stoke sessions. The Hoodoo Gurus, Gangajang, the Talking Heads, the Untouchables can conjure vivid images of entire movie segments with a single chord or verse. At the same time, traveling surfers had gravitated to Bob Marley who defined the parameters of reggae and consequently created a genre that could probably be most closely associated with the term "surf music."
Surfers in the nineties were pushing surfing to radical heights and thus needed more musical energy. Surf movies exploded with frenetic soul from Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, and Sublime (and if memory serves even Limp Bizkit and the Offspring). Tom Curren provided his own soundtrack to "The Search" and single-handedly put a guitar in the hand of every pro surfer for the next decade, inspiring the likes of today's surf music purveyors like Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter, and Timmy Curran. While the Beach Boys weren't known for their full on surf skills, today's biggest surf rock artists are also top-notch wave riders themselves.
What does that mean? Did surfing influence them to create something great or are surfers just so narrow minded we only support our own kind? But like paddle turned to tow, the big question is what's next?
Undoubtedly, I missed about a million great bands that have stoked you out. So share your favorites with the world and include them in the "comments" below. If you're looking for fun, trashy modern surf music that will get you amped for sure, try Wavves.
As summer turns to fall and fall to winter, surfers are spending loads of time in the water chasing those cold water swells. But the sun is still an issue. For most folks, a good slathering of sunscreen and a wetsuit will suffice make for hours of free surfing fun, but for others, the sun poses other issues beyond the skin: specifically, a surfing related disease called a pterygium. This is an eye condition that I, myself, have dealt with for years, but not until I wrote a piece about these annoying, red, progressive growths did I find how many others are affected and looking for help. Surfers are especially prone to this disease because although genetics is an important factor in their formation; exposure to wind, saltwater, and sun are the catalysts that spark its growth.
Although science has offered very little in the way of alleviating (much less curing) the effects of pterygia on the body and psyche, wearing protective surf sunglasses while in the water help keep them from getting worse. The problem is that wave and water power makes keeping glasses on while you surf almost impossible, and the fogging and glare of standard eye wear can be distracting when applied to the art of surfing. So I embarked on a mission to review some of today's newest surf sun glasses made especially for use in the water and among the chaos of the impact zone. I found that most of these glasses offer what surfers need in the lineup, but each model offers a different nuance for the discerning surfer to consider. If given the choice, none of us would choose to wear anything out in the water, but whether you are looking for style or function (or both), there looks to be a pair of glasses out there for you.
Kirk Passmore, who has been described as a business owner and restaurant manager, was last seen getting caught inside during last Wednesday's raw north swell in the late morning surfing Alligator Rock on the North Shore. Although his damaged board was found, searchers have scoured the ocean for days with no good news. Born in Utah and growing up in Carlsbad, California, the 32-year-old lived to surf and made it his life chasing waves in Hawaii and around the world. Local surfers have been expounding to the press that had he been wearing a flotation life vest, the outcome would have been much different. This is probably true, but big wave surfing is a complex obsession that is entangled with not so subtle ironies. Technology makes it safer but safety isn't really the point when you are choosing to paddle out in 20 foot surf. Ironic? Maybe.
As technology further pervades our existence and the dirge of crowds permeates every previously isolated corner of the surfing world, so too does the need for freedom and simplicity. A couple weeks back, I was as amazed as the rest of you as Carlos Burle and Maya Gabeira made news in Portugal riding giant waves, but something has been bugging me about today's big wave culture. There is something a little annoying about the amount of extra stuff that big wave surfing has grown to rely on to make it "safe." An army of trucks, trailers, jet skis, and boats descend on beach parks at dawn. Surfers grab their tow ropes and don their life vests and helmet cameras, looking more like astronauts than free spirits. What happened to the loving yet always unpredictable relationship between the surfer and nature? It's been replaced by gasoline and plastic.
Passmore paddled out under his own juice last Wednesday. He navigated the shore break at Waimea and paddled past the throngs of surfers, cameramen, and floating spectators waiting for a moment of fame, stoke, and circumstance at the famous bay. He paddled around the rocks and down the beach about a mile to Alligator Rock (sometimes called Baby Sunset for its open ocean quality and big shifty walls). It's a quiet but tense paddle over the rise and fall of giant waves. It's surfer meets nature at its most simple and the way surfing was meant to be. He knew exactly what could happen out there a half mile off the beach among sprawling ocean currents and the unpredictable march of giant swells. That's what makes it so awesome. That's what makes it worth doing. That's what makes it something to remember that enriches the life experience rather than draws from it. Sure, a jet ski, life vest, helmet, and GPS would have made it safer, but sometimes the simplicity of the surf experience trumps all. Maybe the simple act of riding a wave counts for something even if no one sees it or (God forbid) films it. Now, that doesn't mean that Burle and McNamara and those guys who are searching for XXL fame aren't brave souls who are capable of riding waves the rest of us avoid; however, the reliance on stuff is making surfing something it was never meant to be.
For once, I read an interesting conversation going on in the comments section under a report of Passamore's death. Readers were debating whether there is something valuable or noble in dying doing what you love. No doubt, humans have a gift of finding meaning in things that just happen, but the fact that he died in pursuit of making his own life experience better in the most simple and true way has to count for something. If not to us, then maybe to him.
To further the tragic irony, Passmore's final wave was caught on film, and it was a beauty.
Montgomery "Buttons" Kaluhiokalani, the radical, fun-loving, shaggy haired icon of Hawaiian surfing, passed away on November 3rd at 54 years old. He was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. He was most recently known for his Buttons Surf School which incorporated his signature energy, natural surfing skills, and his love of the Hawaiian culture into one package for locals and tourists on the North Shore. Awarded the Oceans of Possibilities Award this year by a Hawaiian non-profit for his work helping differently abled folks enjoy the ocean, Buttons is perhaps best known for his radical and aggressive approach to spots all around the North Shore and his massive amount of Aloha.
Born in 1959 in Honolulu, the African-American/ Hawaiian Buttons learned to surf on the South Shore but was soon ripping the North Shore. He embraced the then futuristic equipment of the Short Board Revolution and the radical avant guard maneuvers that came with it, drawing ideas from the quick, sharp moves that skateboarders were doing at the time. Not known for his competitive prowess, Buttons was instead a study in free surfing and became synonymous with the free island lifestyle.
Sadly, that same free lifestyle that helped bring him notoriety also propelled his life into a downward spiral and a period of drug abuse that culminated in a near overdose. He says "My surfing fell to the wayside. My marriage and family fell to the wayside. I got lost in my own disease." But when I met him, Kaluhiokalani was strong and positive, surfing like a man half his age with a smile that was rich and true. He was sober and epitomizing the clean lifestyle. What was cool about the rebirth of Buttons was the way the surfing community embraced him and supported him. Friends from all over the world were there for Buttons, and he paid it forward by becoming an advocate of sobriety for Hawaii's youth, warning them about the dangers of addiction. He became a surfing instructor and started his own school as he began rebuilding relationships with his family and friends. Buttons stated in an online video, "Life is the gift."
Sadly, this past summer, he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and the disease quickly took over. While his death is a great loss, Buttons' life was a gift, a gift to his wife, eight children and nine grandchildren. He was a gift to surfing, a world that has few true stars. I don't mean media stars but rather bursts of natural energy and talent that don't need contests and magazines to show their light. For me, I remember first seeing Buttons shredding in the most unorthodox ways on VHS. I was in middle school. Many years later, I shared several dawn patrols with him at a perfect although unnoticed sandbar in Hawaii. His star was shining as bright as the rising sun. RIP.
It happened just as we'd hoped. Kelly Slater went down early at Supertubos in Portugal amid crap-house surf and pressure from a fresh battalion of rookie talent. Ah yes, an all too earthly end to a galactic career. We watched him shuffle away from the ocean coddling aches and injuries both physical and mental from decades of beatings given by the world's best waves and best surfers and presumably from himself and his own desperate need for excellence. Poof! The candle is snuffed out. Cue the new breed of young surfers to swoop in and pick at his bones as we finish off the ASP season.
And then there was Mick Fanning who was in perfect form: mechanical, kinetic, and precise, looking fit and dominant as he was surely relishing the demise of his American rival and could almost taste the spray of sweet champagne on the podium and could hear the throngs of fans scream for his double win of both the Rip Curl Pro and the World Championship. It is written and and ye shall be done, right? "Nay!" says Mick's countryman Kai Otton who unapologetically added Fanning to the list of victims on his murder spree to first and all too belated first win on tour. To watch Otton lately is to watch a kid, a fresh talent who is spry and nimble, not the oft criticized workhorse who needs spitting pits to post anything over a 6. Heck no! Otton made the self-assured Fanning look slow and even tentative. Yes. It's just what we'd hoped.
We wanted drama. We wanted a narrative with real plot elements. The season saw a Slater who surfed like every bit the magician we've come to expect (Did you see Fiji?) but who slowly began to slump and slumber. You could see it in his surfing, an older guy aching and uninterested among a slew of stoked groms, and we almost missed Fanning, lurking, cold, calculating just under the radar until pouncing mid-season. The tension was rising. And it all came down to Portugal - what could be the end if Fanning won. It could be the climax of this story and a bitter end to the greatest surfing career in history (of course, I am assuming this is Slater's last full-year on tour only based of logic and science but he has not abided by neither so far). But no. Both go down in sad and tragic ways, leaving only one contest which just so happens to be history's ultimate venue of danger and beauty: The Banzai Pipeline! You can't write this stuff.
Surely, promoters are rejoicing and sponsors are spazzing while photogs (read my interview with Pete Hodgson Part 1 and Part 2) and writers jockey for angles and stories, but for folks who love surfing, it's just plain fun to watch. It's not like Carissa Moore who clinched the title already. It's the spectacle, the rivalries, and the drama of athletic competition that has forever spurred fans of other sports to tailgate, argue, speculate, cry, cheer, and even paint themselves. But surfing was never like that. This is a whole new era. And it's at once interesting (remember Slater versus Irons in 2003?), exhilarating, but maybe just a little unnerving.
The world of surfing is one based on taking. We take a ride to the beach where we greedily take as many waves as we can. Sometimes we take a flight on which we take our boards and ipods and computers to another country and take waves from the locals and take pictures and videos of each other so we can take them back home and brag about how we "owned it."
This flies in the face of the image we have painted of ourselves as mellow sea monkeys who spend our days as the sun rises and the mushrooms grow...long haired flower children who sacrifice material excess in exchange for a life in the ocean. It's all a façade. A fallacy.
But there are entities that have taken action to show that surfers don't just take and they don't just and watch the mushrooms grow. They act, and they help and are building a better place to surf. The Save the Waves Coalition has been aggressively battling corporate and government encroachment on hallowed surfing areas since 2001. Save the Waves has preserved surf spots in Peru, Costa Rica, Australia and Ireland among many other countries. If your curious, some spots include Pavones and Stradbroke Island. And while you and I are saying "Yeah, now we can go take some more waves!" They instead have quantified the value of waves beyond what we can take from them but rather what they give back to the community in terms of economics and cultural significance over the long term rather short minded profit margins of large developers.
That said, another "giver" in the shoes and sunglasses industry is teaming up with Save the Waves to help protect our coastlines. TOMS' is well known for giving shoes and medical help to restore sight to struggling third world villages.
Here's the deal: Save The Waves Coalition has partnered with TOMS to create a line of limited edition eye wear. For every pair sold, TOMS helps give sight to a person in need and contributes $10 to Save The Waves' international coastal environmental programs.
In other positive news, I just got a chance to interview American Idol near-finalist Jason Castro who starred as a surf shop owner in a TV movie on UP TV. After talking a bit, I came to find out he is a cool cat for sure who is just out make some music and make a positive impact on the world. So if you are wanting to take anything, go take a look at Part One and Part Two of my interview with Jason and take a minute to think about what you can give.
Fall is about to break and with its arrival come Nor'easters and pre-winter lows rife with wind and current and swirling rips. Sounds crappy, but if you love surfing, you know that shifty chop and heavy breaking closeout meatballs can sometimes be a blast. Here is the issue: paddling through wind and current can wreak all havoc and heck on the shoulders, arms, and back; especially if you haven't been out in a while.
It's strange when you think about it, but paddling is in many ways the most important skill in surfing...above everything. Think about it. You paddle more than you surf, and paddling gets you into position and into the wave. So how do you become a better paddler? If you have the opportunity to surf every day or even every other day, you'll be primed and loose for your next session, but paddling out cold and stiff after a surfing hiatus can result in muscle soreness, pain, and at worst, major injury. So what to do? Whether you are looking to get the best waves at you local beach break or prepping for an exotic trek to India, here are some ways to improve your stroke and in turn improve your stoke.
Reading Dr. Tony Butt's short piece on the importance of waves. I'm digging the whole thing. He hits on the obvious bits of how we love to ride waves and "steal" from them and essentially use them for our own pleasure, but waves are not meaningless lumps sent for our wanton desires. Instead, Dr Butt waxes scientific in his description of the wave's true meaning. A wave is a conductor of energy, a shaper of coasts, and one inescapable sprocket in the delicate chaos that is nature. Very cool Doc. Waves are unique snowflakes but many (e.g. Pipe, Teahupo, Mavericks) are instantly identifiable in their menacing personality and beautiful curves that are shaped by sharp reefs and craggy rocks from the amorphous blob of salt water pulsing above. No doubt, Dr. Butt's little piece is the muse for this blog and should push us all to think about the limited life span that waves, beaches and nature in general hold in this world. Gone are many classic spots, killed by chemicals and dredging and jetties and high rise apartments. While everything tangible is limited, sometimes the intangible leaves us as well. The energy of waves that drives us from within and makes us feel young and excited seems an endless supply, but someday it will run out (and so will the medium through which it moves). Enjoy them while they last and enjoy them while YOU last because it's all finite.
The weekend just passed...a holiday...a day off work and it's flat. Is that some kid of a joke? A full 24 hours of navigating a world without waves. Is that some kind of ironic slap in the face or Mother Nature's response to our nonsensical pandering to an artificial schedule of days and labor. No matter how you slice it, a day off is an excuse to go surfing, but it's flat. So what now? Maybe you are checking the beach today in New York. Maybe you're waking up in Hawaii, or checking the buoys for tomorrow's session in Bali. Oooh! You Aussies have no idea how lucky you are to live Down Under. As for me, I spent the early morning just watching small, clean peelers detonate upon the shoreline under the blazing A.M. sunshine. That's the crazy thing; surfers sometimes have no idea how lucky they are just to be surfers even when there are no waves. Heck, I owe my life to surfing. I wouldn't have traveled to all the interesting places and met all the awesome folks around the world (or my wife for that matter). Every session has made up my collective self and who I am as a human. Maybe there is some real reason why it's flat on the day you have off. It's the day for guys and girls who take surfing for granted to think about how lucky they are...just to be surfers. Go pick up some trash at your local beach. Give your shaper a hug. Join the Surfrider Foundation. Pet a shark. Think about what life would be like without surfing, and then most of all stay healthy so that you can surf when the moment arises (sounds like a Viagra commercial). And when that next swell hits, ride every wave with a smile and dig life for the happiness it brings.
The weekend just passed...a holiday...a day off work and it's flat. Is that some kid of a joke? A full 24 hours of navigating a world without waves. Is that some kind of ironic slap in the face or Mother Nature's response to our nonsensical pandering to an artificial schedule of days and labor. No matter how you slice it, a day off is an excuse to go surfing, but it's flat. So what now?
Maybe you are checking the beach today in New York. Maybe you're waking up in Hawaii, or checking the buoys for tomorrow's session in Bali. Oooh! You Aussies have no idea how lucky you are to live Down Under. As for me, I spent the early morning just watching small, clean peelers detonate upon the shoreline under the blazing A.M. sunshine. That's the crazy thing; surfers sometimes have no idea how lucky they are just to be surfers even when there are no waves. Heck, I owe my life to surfing. I wouldn't have traveled to all the interesting places and met all the awesome folks around the world (or my wife for that matter). Every session has made up my collective self and who I am as a human.
Maybe there is some real reason why it's flat on the day you have off. It's the day for guys and girls who take surfing for granted to think about how lucky they are...just to be surfers. Go pick up some trash at your local beach. Give your shaper a hug. Join the Surfrider Foundation. Pet a shark. Think about what life would be like without surfing, and then most of all stay healthy so that you can surf when the moment arises (sounds like a Viagra commercial). And when that next swell hits, ride every wave with a smile and dig life for the happiness it brings.
Sometimes it seems that blogs are blogging about blogs without contributing anything new to the micro-macrocosm of the Internet. We hook an original idea and cast it into a self-perpetuating spiral until it burns out like a dying star. We are feeding on ourselves like a snake eating its tail. The ideal goal is to make your message known and to write something original to pique the interest of your niche reader (in this case surfers) amidst a community lousy with literally countless voices vying for attention armed with varying degrees of skill and resources. That said, cast your stones at will as I contribute one more bite mark to the serpent's backside by commenting on a blog entry recently posted on a very well-respected site. The writer stated that surfing has again become "cool," mostly due to the rise of artsy-fartsy image cultivators within a media/merchandise industry that is more accepting of "individuality." Also, he states that surfing has become cool because of the innovative surfing of Dane Reynolds. So allow me to drop one more needless and infinitely tiny pebble into the tempest tossed sea of opinion and information.
Let me state first that I don't think surfing ever lost its cool factor. At moments, sure, it's looked relatively less cool in its media portrayal (i.e. 80's day-glow short-shorts), but to be a surfer will never wane in its utter immersive cool-to-awesome ratio. Also, let me state for fact that Reynolds rips (no argument at all), but to say that he has made surfing cooler than Lopez did in the tube or on safari or Dora did with a smirk and snarl or Curren did with a cutback and a guitar or Fletcher did with 6-foot airs and a Mohawk (or you did when you stood up on that first wave), that's insanity. Reynolds' surfing is progressive and dramatic but not any "cooler" than you or me because we're just as stoked. You know what was cool? Greg Noll literally walking away from the surfing life after riding the biggest wave in the world. That's balls. That's a screenplay. That's a moment. Think about it...surfing is all about moments and how they contribute to the whole experience from a split second tube to a narrow reef cut to a fleeting conversation. But really, all those aforementioned guys really just made the image of surfing cooler. The experience of surfing has remained cranked up to eleven for ages. And really, if you want to talk image, how about those naked Hawaiians who were gliding along waves to the surprise of Captain Cook? That was probably the coolest description of a surfer in a travel journal ever.
Has surfing become more artful of late? If so, we have lost what defines art. Art is creation, whether for aesthetics or function. But positioning yourself in front of a camera with a New York haircut, a scribbly painting, and a finless Alaia board tucked under the arm; that doesn't really mean that art-cool has returned to surfing. Surfing is creation. Haven't we been through the metaphor before? The wave as canvas and so on and so forth? Don't ignore the art of the surfboard and the photograph and the writing that define surf culture. Cool is allowing your art to speak for you, not necessarily making your image the piece itself. Read Drew Kampion's Stoked or Allan Weisbecker's In Search of Captain Zero. Full disclosure: Allan does a bit of image cultivation as well as did all the surfers who have become part of the sport's pop cultural mythology. That's the game and it hasn't changed. It's not new.