Posted: 30 May 2011 by Board Collector

Since moving to California I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the Beach Boys as I drive around checking out the surf. The song Sunfin USA, written by Brian Wilson and released in 1963, makes numerous references to Californian breaks that would have been surfed by Wilson’s friends and band mates who would have told him the names of spots as he himself did not surf. I get a huge buzz, seeing for the first time, the freeway turn off signs to beaches mentioned in the song I’ve been singing since I was 10 years old.

But, by 1963 none of the beach boys had been to Australia so it got me thinking, where did the reference to Australia’s Narrabeen come from?

North Narrabeen

Narrabeen 1962

The lyrics go-

You’d catch ’em surfin’ at Del Mar (been there)
Ventura County line (yep)
Santa Cruz and Trestles (cold and crowded)
Australia’s Narrabeen (that’s odd, thats not in the USA)
All over Manhattan (what!?)
And down Doheny Way (nice place)

Everybody’s gone surfin’
Surfin’ U.S.A.

We’ll all be planning that route
We’re gonna take real soon
We’re waxing down our surfboards
We can’t wait for June
We’ll all be gone for the summer
We’re on surfari to stay
Tell the teacher we’re surfin’
Surfin’ U. S. A.

Haggerties and Swami’s (my local)
Pacific Palisades (good set up but $$$$)
San Onofre and Sunset (nice place for the family)
Redondo Beach L. A. (ummm, so so waves)
All over La Jolla (heaps of good reef breaks)
And Wa’imea Bay. (well, thats not in California but it is in the USA)
Everybody’s gone surfin’
Surfin’ U.S. A.

I can imagine a teenage Brian Wilson driving around in 1962 as the song started to form in his head and simply running out of surf spots for the lyrics. So he pulled his car over to a news stand and picked up a copy of Surfer, Surfing Illustrated or Surfing magazine and seeing a feature article on Australia with Narrabeen being mentioned.

So that means we could find the actual article that inspired the lyric if we were to comb the less than 24 issues of Surfer and Surfing from 1962 because Surfing didn’t go monthly till 1979.

So I need you to go to the garage, pull out the boxes and look for a mention of Narrabeen in any 1961, 62 or 63 U.S surfing mags.

The next question is what the hell does he mean “All over Manhattan”? Waves in NYC? What am I missing here?

3 thoughts on “Surfin USA

  1. Manhattan Beach, in Los Angeles. Living just north in Venice in the ’70s, my buddies (I was a surf-rat, and it was a posse of our very own homo-surf-fratboys-at-that ), and we rode our bikes down the boardwalk with our swimfins dangling from the handlebars. Towels on the sand, blotter acid under the tongue, and lounging in our speedos we went out to catch some waves north of the pier cause they were looking mighty good. The waves got sweeter by the minute as we got higher. We invented all kinds of new takeoffs for the time — underwater, backstroke, etc. We perfected spins, and back-riding. Wooo-hooo! 3 hours out, I lost a fin, and rode one in. We came down and looked at the waves sizing them with our eyes finally instead of feeling them surge down our skin or measuring them by the milliseconds in the drop. Apparently, the avant-edge of a huge Southern Hemi swell had hit and we were on barreling almost double-overheads out there. It wasn’t just our heads that were high. It was the swell of the summer. A lifeguard drove up and smiled and nodded, said he’d been watching us with his binox, he smiled again and drove off. He’d let us be out there — didn’t whistle us to come in. I guess he enjoyed the show and knew we were proficient and okay. One of my buds from those days, is now on this list too. We’re both somewhat grizzled today. But I hope he recalls that Surfin Safari occasion that ephemeral day, on the knife edge of aqua blue summer down Manhattan way, as vividly as I do. We’re on Safari to stay.

  2. Random comment- that first pic of the big wave surfer.. It’s my friend Karen’s father, Bird Wilson… Love that you posted that particular pic. He was a nice man who loved his gay daughter. She too has surfed since her childhood. He passed away, but he is remember through the San O’ Surf Club, as he was a past president.

    And yes, Manhattan.. is reference to the beach in LA.

  3. Great music indeed! On my first surf trip I had Dick Dale and his Del-Tones going the whole way to Tofino as my old Volvo clocked the big 300,000km! What great time that was. Gotta go do it again very soon!

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