03 December 2016

 
Sunset at Huntington Beach
Round, round get around... Surfing USA
On the trail of The Beach Boys, Steve Turner has his own Surfin' Safari in California
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can't travel to Los Angeles without thinking of The Beach Boys. Their songs of beaches, baggies, boards and bikinis painted a picture of a sun-kissed paradise. This time I was travelling specifically to discover the people and places that inspired the band. I started in Hawthorne where the three Wilson brothers - Brian, Carl and Dennis - were raised, and joined up with guitarist Al Jardine and vocalist Mike Love to form a group.The Wilson family home on 119th Street, where the boys taped their first single Surfin', in 1961, was demolished to make way for Interstate 105.

The rest of the street remains though, its neat lawns, porches and fluttering flags reminders of the group's clean-cut All-American origins. A redbrick memorial now stands at the site of the Wilson house, with a bas-relief frieze showing the group carrying a surfboard and a plaque noting that the music conceived here 'broadcast to the world an image of LA as a place of sun, surf and romance'.
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The Beach Boys get their feet wet on the cover of an early EP - although all but one were famous non-surfers.
Hawthorne is indeed a place of sun (263 days a year) but no surf. I could see why the teenagers of the 1950s would get 'bugged driving up and down the same old strip'. The Pizza Show (13344 Hawthorne) added a splash of colour when it arrived in 1956 and became a home from home for the fledgling Beach Boys.
Scenic Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway
"Music conceived here 'broadcast to the world an image of LA as a place of sun, surf and romance'."
Now run by the son of the original owner, it retains its kitsch medieval Italian interior, with wrought iron chandeliers, tiled awnings and grille windows. Foster's Freeze (11969 Hawthorne), another gathering place, is a blue-roofed fast-food outlet. When I arrived, Louie Louie, a 1963 hit by The Kingsmen, was playing. This was the very 'hamburger stand' where Brian Wilson saw a girl pull up in her father's Thunderbird and had the inspiration for Fun Fun Fun. Hawthorne High School, around the corner on El Segundo Boulevard, was attended by the Wilson boys and Jardine.

The Beach Boys came back to play the 1969 prom and honoured the institution in their song Be True to Your School. The nearest surfing beach to Hawthorne is Manhattan, but the best is Huntington Beach, better known as Surf City USA. Other than Dennis Wilson, The Beach Boys were famously non-surfers, but they were smart enough to observe the burgeoning culture and knew there was mileage in chronicling it. They mentioned Huntington Beach in Surfin' Safari. The city of Huntington Beach makes much of its surfers. There's a Walk of Fame, a Hall of Fame and a small International Surfing Museum.

My hotel, the Waterfront Beach Resort, had a surfboard in the foyer and doorknob signs that read Wiped Out rather than Do Not Disturb. By 8.30am there were already more than 100 surfers bobbing about waiting patiently to ride in on the most powerful of the tall, grey waves. As if on cue, a local surf music tribute band, The Breakaways, dressed in faded blue denims and Hawaiian shirts, began playing at the pier entrance.
A few days later The Surfaris drummer David Raven took me to an outdoor gig in Irvine, Orange County,where he played with bassist Jay Truax (ex-Nomads), and guitarists Ron Eglit (Dick Dale and his Band) and Paul Johnson (The Bel-Airs).They called themselves The Legends Surf Band.

As a 15-year old schoolboy in 1961 Paul Johnson composed a hit tune called Mr Moto for The Bel-Airs. A leading surfer told him: 'Wow, man! Your music sounds just like it feels out on a wave. You should call it surf music.' So he did.
When The Beach Boys adopted this sound the hard-core sports crowd initially shunned them, said Johnson. 'But when they went on to celebrate California youth culture at large by singing about cars and cruising, that broadened their appeal. After that, even surfers appreciated them.' In 1965, Brian Wilson bought the then modern property 1448 Laurel Way in Beverly Hills with its great views over the LA basin. It was here that he built himself a huge sandbox in the living room to stimulate his creative juices. The video for Sloop John B was filmed in the garden pool. Two years later he moved to 10452 Bellagio Road in the more upmarket gated community of Bel Air.

Several Beach Boys' albums, including Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, 20/20 and Surf's Up, were partially recorded here, while Charles Manson, a fringe figure on the LA music scene in 1969, visited to tape songs that he'd written. In songs such as Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down, Little Honda and Fun Fun Fun, The Beach Boys explored the parallel teenage subculture of cruising and hotrodding. On my final day I headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. With hills and canyons to one side and beaches to the other, no drive is better suited to a Beach Boys' soundtrack.


Original article published in June 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.


"The nearest surfing beach to Hawthorne is Manhattan, but the best is Huntington Beach, better known as Surf City USA."
The Surfing Hall of Fame at Huntington Beach
Chips traditional diner
Foster's Freeze, the hamburger stand that inspired Fun Fun Fun
 
 
 
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