Surfing about Music

Surfing about Music

Surfing about Music

Surfing about Music

Synopsis

This first major examination the interrelationships of music and surfing explores different ways that surfers combine surfing with making and listening to music. Tim Cooley uses his knowledge and experience as a practicing musician and avid surfer to consider the musical practices of surfers in locations around the world, taking into account ideas about surfing as a global affinity group and the real-life stories of surfers and musicians he encounters. In doing so, he expands ethnomusicological thinking about the many ways musical practices are integral to human socializing, creativity, and the condition of being human.

Cooley discusses the origins of surfing in Hawai'i, its central role in Hawaiian society, and the mele (chants) and hula (dance or visual poetry) about surfing. He covers instrumental rock from groups like Dick Dale and the Del Tones and many others, and songs about surfing performed by the Beach Boys. As he traces trends globally, three broad styles emerge: surf music, punk rock, and acoustic singer-songwriter music. Cooley also examines surfing contests and music festivals as well as the music used in a selection surf movies that were particularly influential in shaping the musical practices of significant groups of surfers. Engaging, informative, and enlightening, this book is a fascinating exploration of surfing as a cultural practice with accompanying rituals, habits, and conceptions about who surfs and why, and of how musical ideas and practices are key to the many things that surfing is and aspires to be.

Excerpt

Riding a wave—surfing—is a cultural practice. Surfing is a deeply experiential act of playing with the power of wind that has been transferred to water to form ocean swells. Sliding down the face of a moving aqueous mound that is forced upward as it approaches shore, a surfer engages with the forces of gravity and water tension. Using techniques handed down through countless generations of coastal dwellers, the surfer harnesses the wave’s energy to move over water in a dance across that liminal zone between open ocean and wave-lapped land. Surfing is a balancing act on a watery tightrope stretched between a silently rising swell and a thundering breaking wave. Yet no matter how much skill, strength, and grace the surfer displays, no matter how small or large the wave that propels the surfer, in the end surfing leaves no trace on the water’s surface. Wave riding creates no lasting product save a memory, a kinesthetic impression.

In this way surfing is like music, for sound waves vanish the instant they are heard. Both surfing and musicking are ephemeral cultural practices that have no quantifiable results or functions other than the feelings they may engender, and the meanings given to them by people. Surfing and musicking require much more time and energy than is reasonable if their purpose is to achieve basic material needs. We clearly engage in them for other reasons. Yet even if we believe passionately that surfing and music are imbued with great meaning, we may not always be able to articulate what that meaning is. Let’s sing another song … I’m going to catch one more wave … . . .

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