IMPACT OF SURF FILMS

We have already discussed Gidget, a Hollywood film that captured some aspects of the growing popularity of surfing in the late 1950s, but also in the 1950s were low-budget films made by surfers themselves for other surfers. Since these films were for and by surfers, they offer accurate pictures of what surfers thought about surfing culture at the time, including, at least by implication, music. Though not the first surf film, Dana Point surfer Bruce Brown’s 1957 Slippery When Wet is the first for which we have the original musical soundtrack. Brown did not use rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll, or even Hawaiian music for the soundtrack, but West Coast cool jazz created by Bud Shank and his quintet specifically for the film. This, and the growing popularity of jazz among the surfing musicians at San Onofre, shows that at least for some in the 1950s, jazz was a type of surfing music. Brown did use some surf music of the Dick Dale variety in his 1964 crossover success, Endless Summer, indicating that, at least for him, there was a real change in what music best fit with surfing. Yet the music composed by the Sandals for Endless Summer is generally mellower than anything Dick Dale and his imitators recorded. For example, their instantly recognizable theme tune for Endless Summer is a mix of acoustic and electric guitars plus a melodica (small mouth-blown keyboard instrument) that is more reminiscent of Hawaiian-influenced surfing music than the hard-driving guitar playing of Dick Dale.

Similarly, paying attention to the music used in surfing films reveals that, by the end of the 1960s, many surfers shunned the now passé vocal and instrumental versions of surf music, and, like many young people at the time, favored psychedelic rock, and even early punk, which seemed to better fit with newer styles of surfing on shorter boards. For example, Jimi Hendrix was favored by many surfers, as is implied in the 1972 film, Rainbow Bridge, in which both Hendrix and surfer Mike Hynson (one of the two lead surfers in Endless Summer) are featured.[3] Later, films made by and for surfers do occasionally use early 1960s style surf music, but usually to reference older 1960s longboarding styles. The 1960s naming of a genre “surf music” may have even hindered subsequent musical surfers, since so many people believed any surfer would naturally prefer “surf music.” Though a number of notable surfers are also accomplished musicians, and there are professional musicians who are accomplished surfers[, it was not until Jack Johnson turned his attention from competitive surfing and surf films to performing and recording his own songs that a prominent connection between popular music and surfing and a surfing lifestyle was renewed.

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