When I came across this little bit of info on a new documentary about surf culture related movies, I thought I’d pass it along to Domenic Priore. He is a renowned pop culture historian, specialized and based in Southern California. I didn’t think that much sending the link, but when I read his reply, the conflicting views became obvious to me in an instant. Having read his recent book Pop Surf Culture I had already a good idea about the strong “bohemian” element in 20th century surfing culture, quite the opposite of today’s dominant “jock” (competitive, corporate, surfer risking his neck for Pepsi) – kind of thing.
KK: Hi Domenic, do you know about this?
DP: No, Kahuna, thanks for the tip. It sounds really stupid, like, the opposite of what Pop Surf Culture has to say about the whole thing. It’s hilarious that “real surfers” have yet to outlive the beach movie stereotype they disdain, despite the years of vitriol they have aimed in William “I Love Lucy” Asher’s direction. Jocks don’t have a concept who The Pyramids are, put it that way, but will celebrate a republican like John Milius, who, in Big Wednesday, made a big deal about, well, his being pissed off that a health food restaurant replaced a hamburger stand in Malibu. God forbid they allow a different point of view to exist from their jock trip, sorry, but it pisses me off, again, because, I grew up having to read in SURFER about how “Surfers are blonde haired and blue eyed, those beach movies had ITALIANS playing surfers!” as if that was some kind of big problem. At the same time, I grew up observing “surfers” having gang fights with “cholos” who could care less, but these “surfers” were really just racist American white kids that had it in for Mexican-Americans, or the more activist Chicano movement as well. I’m not a fan of Frankie Avalon all that much (another family values creep) but he was, for the most part, a really good comedian in those movies, and surpassed his own singing career a few times singing Brian Wilson/Gary Usher/Roger Christian songs such as “Runnin’ Wild,” which is cool and actual rock ‘n’ roll… unlike Frankie’s own recording career. I get big, ironic laughs out of Avalon stuff like “These Are the Good Times” as well, though, I mean, what don’t these jocks understand about COMEDY?… especially MUSICAL COMEDY? Morey Amsterdam, Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Timothy Carey, Buster Keaton fer chrissakes, again, what’s the problem? We hear nothing but put-downs from “real surfers” with money to burn and a forum… never mind the evident enjoyment of less professional people who surf without NASCAR-style sponsorship. Besides, Big Wednesday is not even close to the coolness of Ride the Wild Surf in any way, shape or form. There. Can you please pass this email on to Greg MacGillivray, whose own surfing movies I pretty much love?
KK: With surfing as a topic of motion pictures I think it’s a field where the fact is always head and shoulders above the fiction. Avalon or Big Wednesday – it doesn‘t matter. And, I can only speak for Europe, here these films practically had no impact on pop culture, let alone the surfers. Yet the scene bears lot’s of similarity to America, from what I gather. Which can only mean that magazines and documentaries where the true forces in shaping the surfers’ representation through the years. People recall seeing Crystal Voyager. I saw a yellow surfboard attached to the van of a neighbor hippie son, as he came back from Morrocco in the late 70s, a little later I picked up a styrofoam bellyboard from their trash. The first german surfers on the island of Sylt had John Severson movies screen to the lifeguard car (horse carriage kind, instead of towers) on the beach in the 1960s and listened to The Astronauts and Beach Boys. My impression is that the jock thing only started here after windsurfing started to be too jock dominated and the cool guys just left it to them. Unfortunately the jocks followed faster than you can say thruster. I will attach a link to a home-movie of a trip to Mazatlan, with music that was obviously dubbed on at the actual time. Listen for the jumps in the music when the footage is re-spliced. It’s a great selection of surf tunes!
I added some links to Domenic’s pure text replys, I hope he doesn’t mind.