Surf Music History: The So-Cal Sound Of Dick Dale's Instrumentals

By Jacob Shelton


Left: Dick Dale. Right: The Ventures. Sources: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; merchbar.com

The story of surf rock and surf guitar has one big hero: Dick Dale. Other surf rock acts scored big hits, like The Chantays' "Pipeline," The Surfaris' "Wipeout," The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" and The Ventures' "Walk Don't Run" and "Hawaii Five-0." But the sound, particularly the "wet" reverb-heavy guitar, was pioneered by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. 

In the 1960s, Southern California was known for its sunny beaches, babes, and surfing. Out that culture of the endless summer came surf music - the soundtrack to days spent carving up the waves and nights cruising for a good time.

The new music that came from this era signaled the beginning of a new kind of youth culture. Many of the musicians involved were the same age as their listeners, and artists like Dick Dale and the Bel-Airs were making music specifically inspired by the one past time that they all shared - surfing.

Artists like The Beach Boys wrote about surfing, but they didn’t specifically play surf music. The artists who played instrumental surf music didn’t just play songs about surfing, they gave themselves over to the waves.