Column: Sara’s Official Guide Through Music Genres: Surfing Into Summer

Art by Katie Lew

Surf music, often associated with our sunny home of Southern California, is the perfect genre to kick off the summer.

Genre pioneer Dick Dale combined Mexican and Middle Eastern influences with alternate guitar picking and reverbed guitar to create upbeat, danceable rhythms. He kickstarted the surf music revolution in Orange County with his song “Let’s Go Trippin’,” released in 1961.

Dale started a surf-culture takeover in Orange County as many bands began to contribute to surf music. The Bel-Airs and the Challengers produced some popular songs during this time along with the Surfari’s iconic tune “Wipe Out” that essentially defines surf music. I promise if you play it, you’ll recognize it immediately.

When talking about surf music, it is impossible to ignore one of the most influential bands of all time, the Beach Boys. They represented the harmonized, doo-wop style vocalization, which is thought to be separate from the guitar focused surf music that Dale largely contributed to. Although their leader, Brian Wilson, expressed his distaste for the surf music label, calling it “a name that people slap on any sound from California,” the group undoubtedly shaped the genre into what it is known as today. 

The Beach Boys produced chart-topper after chart-topper throughout the early 1960s when surf music was widely appreciated. But like many subgenres that started in the 1960s, surf music was quickly overpowered by the British Invasion. Although the songs were no longer topping the charts, the surf culture of Southern California remained strong and bands who diversified their approach to music—like the Beach Boys—survived the invasion.

Surf music has also produced many subgenre branches such as surf rock and surf punk. Although this genre isn’t as widespread as the others I have read about, it is very influential to me as a native Californian. It feels special to my hometown and maybe its nostalgia contributes to my love for surf music as a whole. 

This felt like the perfect genre to end the school year because it encapsulates the feeling of summer, and since I am moving to Chicago for college, my summer will be filled with surf music to say goodbye to the beach, at least for a few months.

I have always struggled to name my favorite music genre and when I started this column my hope was to finally have an answer. But dare I say, this did the opposite. In my exploration of the music industry I was introduced to new sounds and bands I have never heard of before. This gave me the opportunity to discover music and the motivation to branch out as an avid music listener. Thank you to The Nexus for supporting my endeavors and thank you readers for taking this journey with me.