I had been surfing for two years, but being locked inland I was still a kook when my sister, Jackie, brought home “Surfer’s Choice,” the 1962 hit album by Dick Dale and His Deltones. Then she cranked up the hit song “Miserlou” good and loud as my musical tastes got switched on.
From then on, whenever I was home alone, I would put “Miserlou” on the massive wooden Hi-Fi, placing the album cover within view and surfing the carpet to the tune, imitating Dale, whose less than stylish stance was on the cover. My younger brother, David, quickly got into the act and when asked who the best surfer in the world was, quickly announced that it was Dick Dale. What did we know?
I saw the undisputed king of the surf guitar at Buena Park’s Harmony Park later that year, where a surf stomp entertained surfers, kooks and hodads throughout inland Orange County, while real surfers waited to see the band at the Rendezvous Ballroom, on the beach in Balboa Peninsula.
A few years later The Beatles ruined everything and when Hendrix came along and said that we would “never hear surf music again.” I was naive enough to believe him, glad actually that those hodad groups who sang about surfin’ surfaris and hot cars were cleared from the landscape. Still, I hung on to my love of Dick Dale’s raucous and loud rock instrumental sounds.
The music was all but dead in 1982, when my friend, surfer Chris O’Rourke, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the lymph glands and found himself in need of financial help. We knew a few musicians in town and when they agreed to perform and the La Paloma Theater generously agreed to let us use the facility without charge, we began looking for a headliner.
I don’t recall who it was that had his home phone number, but someone gave me Dick Dale’s number and I cold called him to explain the situation. I still remember his sincere voice on the line, “I wish I could but my wife is having surgery that day, and I need to be there with her.” He thanked me for my concern and hung up, calling back minutes later to say that his wife had rescheduled and that he and his full band would play the La Paloma for a fellow surfer.
We probably didn’t even sell the place half out, but Dick Dale rocked hard that night, giving the hospitalized O’Rourke renewed hope. I never did speak to Dick Dale again and his music continued to fade until it was revived in some hazy junkie’s dance by John Travolta, something I always considered an insult to such a mind bending surf hymn. The Black-Eyed Peas did a better job of paying tribute to the man and his song recently, assuring Dick Dale his rightful place in pop culture.
My brother and I now realize that the acceptable answer to who was the best surfer in 1962 should have been Hawaiian-born Paul Strauch, Bobby Patterson or California’s Phil Edwards. While he did enjoy surfing, Dick Dale would not even make the top 10,000 on such a list. Now, if you asked me who my favorite surfers of all time were, the man would be among the first to come to mind. His gift to the musical world, to Chris O’Rourke and to me will not soon be forgotten.
If you’ve never heard “Surfer’s Choice,” get a copy and turn up “Miserlou” good and loud. Your parents will thank you for it.
Filed Under: Sea Notes