The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Sound Waves

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When Pearl Jam released their debut album 'Ten' in 1991, few realised that half the songs on the track listing had been composed in the water by Eddie Vedder during various surf sessions. Since then Vedder has been sure to punch up his surfer credentials and, to be fair, when his surf buddy is eight time ASP World Champion Kelly 'Because I'm worth it' Slater he is certainly entitled to, or is he? Recently "welcomed into the inner circle" of the North Shore mafia during the 2006 winter season on Oahu, an iconic monochrome photograph of the pair, boards under arm, striding towards the ocean's edge was published in the March 2007 edition of Surfing Magazine.

So what's the big deal I hear you ask ? Well, as surfing has marched towards the mainstream two critical things have happened. Firstly, this movement has coincided with a shift by the big surf companies from focusing on their practical products such as boards, wetsuits and rashvests to focusing on their lifestyle products such as t-shirts, jackets and wallets; all by promoting the 'idea' of surfing as a sunkissed, beach based idyll populated by perfectly bronzed uber babes and dudes. The result is the rise of the 'Surfanista', a person who wears branded surfwear but does not practice the sport itself and may not even live anywhere near the ocean either. Nothing illustrates the rise and influence of the Surfanista better than the recently opened Quiksilver Outlet store just outside Kildare which is like a glorified TK Max. Here you can buy any array of clothing with the logo of Kelly Slater's main sponsor emblazoned on them but you cannot buy the surfboards that hang overhead from the ceiling since they are for decorative purposes only. It's as if the merchandise now had its own line of merchandise.

Secondly, as more people learn about the sport of surfing in Ireland and decide to have a go themselves, tensions have started to develop at the main breaks around the country, one particularly ugly example being the shortboarder out on the right hand side of The Dumps in Kerry last weekend snarling and shouting at other surfers, many of them veterans, who were out for a mellow session. I myself was surfing elsewhere so I avoided the grief but if you are reading this pal, I don't care how well you surf, you are still a bonafide asshole and you have no birthright to the waves.

All of which is to say that a tension is developing in surfing whereby people are encouraged to buy into the fantasy lifestyle of surfing through the purchase of expensive branded clothing but are then actively discouraged from practising the surprisingly cheap sport itself by the kind of knobheads who make Whelans such an unpleasant place to have a beer in. As Bruce Springsteen once put it, "You can look / But you better not touch". It's the direct opposite of the DIY punk mentality, Not U2, so to speak and it makes me sick to the core. I think Alex Garland really skewered that attitude in his novel, 'The Beach' in which backpackers are drawn to a mythical beach community hidden from the outside world and, when they find it, are then sworn to secrecy about its actual location.

Which is where that photo of Kelly Slater and Eddie Vedder on the North Shore comes in because if anything screams of a elitist, hierarchical, exclusive, aristocratic and corporate approach to surfing it's that image. The surfer as rockstar, the rockstar as surfer, the both of them as king. The crowd of unwashed fans held at bay as these two goliaths stride forward to play in an ocean that neither of them has any ownership of. Oh yeuch !
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Snowboarders have been listening to their MP3 players for years as they carve down virgin powder slopes and half pipes but surfers being surfers and water being water its taken somewhat longer for wave riders to catch on to the potential of listening to their favourite music during a session. Recently however, that has started to change with the release of the DryPod, an i-Pod compatible waterproof case and headphone set which allows surfers to listen to their favourite tunes whilst out on the break. Another company that has been keen to produce something surf friendly is Freestyle Audio who have created the Freestyle Audio Digital Media player and enlisted Billabong team rider and former world champion Andy Irons to promote it. Whether these devices catch on; surfers being notoriously cheap when it comes to spending money on non essential items (wetsuits, plane tickets, boards and hoodies excluded) is another matter.

Perhaps, these devices will only appeal to the Wilbur Kookmeyers amongst the surfing community. Who knows ?


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"Two waves diverged in the ocean, and I,
I rode the one less surfed,
And that has made all the difference"

Robert 'Waimea' Frost 

Ok, I am being cheeky but I have never been that gone on roads. Suffice to say that I am just back from a surfari in a seldom surfed part of Spain which most surfers would say is not worth a visit. More fool them because from beginning to end it was an exquisite experience.

There are trips where nothing goes right, my surfari to Portugal last October being one such example, and there are trips where nothing goes wrong, as if God himself was your route planner. The first inkling that we were on to a winner was when we were in Arrivals and this dude comes up to me and says, “Hey, you guys are surfers right, listen I am a surfer too, lets exchange numbers and I’ll show you around”. It turns out he was in the US Navy, had served two tours in Iraq as a paramedic stitching up the wounded in theatre and as a reward was now living in Spain. He was also as good as his word, staying in contact with us all week, bringing us to ‘locals only’ spots off the beaten track, taking us on a sherry crawl (Muscatel Pasa, it’s the best) and regaling us with stories such as the time his upper lip was cut in two by a glass wielding thug in a bar and how he calmly talked his way past the bouncers holding him aside, knocked the guy out and then went home to stitch up his mouth with Superglue, which he informed us had been developed by the US Military to cope with war wounds. He also gave us a cast iron way to deal with heavy locals at breaks you want to surf; just paddle into the middle of them with a six pack of high quality beer on the deck of your board and hand them out whilst asking how many of the surfers in the water were actually locals, all the time keeping a big smile on your face.

Probably the highlight of the trip surf wise was when I got up at 7:30am one morning and strolled to the nearest break ten minutes away only to discover beautiful, empty, green, glassy waves. I rushed back, woke up one of my compadres and, realising we didn’t have the ticket to the car park where our rental car was stashed (it was with the guys in another hostel who were asleep and had their phones off) but did have the key itself, we decided to simply change in the car park and then walk across the town in our wetsuits with our boards under our arms, past amazed locals, to the break which we surfed alone for two perfect hours before getting out and, dripping wet, walking back past more amazed local cops and tourists to the car park and an incredulous security guard. I think we even whistled the theme to, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, as we strode. Sweet as. When our other mates picked up the many messages we had sent in a futile attempt to dial them in on the action, they were both gutted and surprised as I am not known for going on dawn patrol. To be honest, I don’t do mornings…ever.

When we were not surfing we were enjoying the wonderful tapas, the crisp cervesa, the incredible warmth and hospitality of the gaditanos, the constant sunshine which produces a magical, luminous quality of light and the sight of endless numbers of beautiful Spanish Senoritas (very gorgeous but also very Catholic). All of this was sound tracked to Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’, an album of rare genius that I had the deep satisfaction to introduce to my circle of friends when we were in our teens; I think one of my musician pals even blurted out, “Astral Whats?” at the time, a lapse that he has never lived down. I tell you one thing, there is nothing like sitting on a warm sandy beach somewhere distant, after a surf, watching the sun go down as the local honeys catch the last rays of the day in front of you, with ‘Sweet Thing’ playing on the earphones, mixed in with the sound of waves breaking on the shore. It’s what Brian Wilson used to write about. Simply sublime.


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Surfing Fender GuitarIn the late 1960s the legendary surfer and inventor of the body board Tom Morey wrote an article for ‘Surfer Magazine’ in which he opined that, “writing about surfing is drawing the sun with one colour”. In the late 1970s, Frank Zappa was quoted in the ‘Chicago Tribune’ as saying that, “rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read”. Somewhere between those two quotes lies the secret heart of this new column for Cluas.

Surfing is unique among sporting pursuits in its ability to not only to be artful but to also inspire art. You couldn’t imagine Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kilgore raiding a Vietnamese village just so his boys could have a game of rugby now could you? And it’s highly doubtful that the Beach Boys would have become so iconic in American pop culture if they had decided to draw inspiration for their songs from the game of golf instead. Nope, there is just something about surfing that brings out the artist and art fan in everyone and right at the top of the list of art forms beloved by surfers is music. At present, all the major surfing magazines have regular music review sections and ‘Transworld Surf’ even has a regular feature where they ask pro surfers like Otto Flores and Zach Hartley what they are listening to on their iPods. It makes sense in way, all that time spent in cars searching the coastline for rideable waves, you have to listen to something from time to time other than your buddies discussing what exactly is the meaning of ‘epic’. And that’s not even getting into the huge amount of music used in the plethora of surf DVDs that are released every year; my favourite being the inclusion of U2s ‘Beautiful Day’ in the recent Aussie body board flick ‘The Road’.

Of course, we haven’t even begun to discuss the many famous musicians who surf such as Metallica’s Kurt Hammett, Pearl Jam's Eddie Veder and Westlife’s Kian Egan; nor the former pro surfers such as Jack Johnson, Donavon Frankenreiter and Jim White who have become famous musicians in their own right.

As for surfing’s continuing ability to inspire musicians who are not themselves surfers I point to Arcade Fire’s ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’ from the recently released ‘Neon Bible’ album and Neosupervital’s single ‘Rachel’; both of which owe a debt to Brian Wilson, referencing as they do ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘Surfer Girl’ respectively.

All of which is to say that in the columns that follow I will be exploring music, surfing and their interrelationship with each other. After all, they are both art forms which rely on waveforms to exist.

Stay stoked
Reverend Jules


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Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.