Surfing about Music

By Mihalka, Matthew | Notes, December 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Surfing about Music


Mihalka, Matthew, Notes


Surfing about Music. By Timothy J. Cooley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. [xvii, 218 p. ISBN 9780520276635 (hardcover), $65; ISBN 9780520276642 (paperback); ISBN 9780520957213 (e-book), $29.95.] Online music examples, illustrations, companion Web site, bibliography, discography, filmography, index.

While music and sports have shared a close connection throughout their existence and (separately) have received a great deal of scholarly interest, very little research has been conducted on their intersection. During the past few years, a growing amount of research has been published, though mostly on more mainstream sports such as soccer and baseball (Anthony Bateman and John Bale, eds., Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music [London: Routledge, 2009]; Ken McLeod, We Are the Champions: The Politics of Sports and Popular Music [Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009]). The connection between music and surfing, a more regionalized sport, provides an interesting case study because it differs from "achievement sports," such as football, the Olympic sports, and basketball, and is more of a "lifestyle sport" instead (p. 172). In Surfing about Music, Timothy Cooley contends that "the music that surfers associate with surfing is key to what surfing is, or rather the many things that surfing is, as well as to who surfers are and aspire to be" (p. 6). He effectively supports his claims through examining the various facets of surfing culture and conducting ethnographic research on those involved in it. For many, surfing and musicking, the verb coined by Christopher Small that is adopted by Cooley throughout the book, are intertwined and provide complementary means of expression for the surfing community. Musicking provides a means of affirming the communal elements of surfing, while the activity of surfing itself is generally a solitary affair between the surfer and the ocean.

Cooley covers the various elements of the surfing culture and lifestyle, including its early development in Hawaii, its spread to California, its celebration in surf movies, and the musical activities of amateur and professional surfers. Cooley's personal voice is a presence throughout the text, and he admits that this is a deeply personal book, as he is a surfer himself and freely switches between the roles of writer-scholar and surfer-musician. In addition to his own voice coming through in the book, Cooley also effectively maintains the voices of his interviewees, which further invites you into the community of surfers. Interspersed throughout the text are various figures, photographs, and illustrations that further demonstrate the media and images surrounding surfing and assist in bringing Cooley's interview subjects to life. In addition to the text, the Web site for the book includes various online audio and video clips of examples Cooley analyzes in the text, which are especially helpful for some of the lesser-known or harder-to-find songs and films.

In the introductory chapter, Cooley poses several questions that will be addressed throughout the book, including the primary questions of "how is music used to mediate the experience of surfing?" and "how does surfing, and changing notions of what a surfing lifestyle might be, affect surfers' musical practices?" (p. 3). Cooley also generally describes the connection between music and surfing, identifies the qualities that define surfing, and establishes surfers as an affinity group. Surfing is the main cultural practice that brings the voluntary participatory group together, although surfers also use music to form and define their group. Thus music plays an important role in the surfing lifestyle and culture, and assists surfers in defining, and redefining, themselves.

The first three chapters are structured historically. Chapter 1, "Trouble in Para - dise," describes the evolution of surfing from the "pre-revival" surfing in nineteenthcentury Hawaii to the "New Surfing" of the twentieth century in California (and other locales) as surfing spread. …

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