Boom crash, swoosh. The ocean is well known for its distinguishable sound, the wind, water and waves all moving around, shouting their presence. Their absence is quickly noticed on a calm day, the stillness almost eerie as the water glistens and the calls of the birds take centre stage. A summers day can sound different to a winters day, a sunny day different to a rainy day. Sometimes the sound is a roar, others a background rustle, with the occasional burst of energy crashing against the shoreline. Sometimes it’s the first thing to hit me when I step out of the car, sometimes I don’t notice it at all, until I think about it. And then I hear it. The booms, crashes and swooshes, the birds, laughter, woops and splashes.
Over the past 60 years we have been inundated with surfing imagery, but the audio that goes with the visual seems to be often overlooked. Man-made music has largely dominated in surf film soundtracks, with a surf music genre emerging with no real relevance to surfing, aside from again, that image. Such music appears to be understandably preferential over the more real sounds of wind whipping around the microphones, difficult to record and often even more difficult to listen to.
Stories are told of how the biggest of waves are heard before they are seen, of the immense noise that these beasts generate as they come to the end of their oceanic travels. While this is special, and perhaps unique to surfing- what other activity is subjected to such thunderous (natural) outbursts? – but this is granted relatively little attention, and surely there is more to the sounds of surf than these extremes. I think so anyway.
Any surfing experience is filled with sound. From wax being rubbed across the deck of a board, the zip up of a wetsuit, even the clunk as the car boot is finally closed and we can jog down the hill. Across the rocks that clatter with each misplaced step (and the resulting yelps or swear words), onto the beach with a small splash through a tidal pool. Always through, never around. The wind, and that constant sea sound, with the intermittent sea crash. All before you’ve even got your toes wet.
Then there’s the Velcro scratch of a leash being attached and adjusted, at the waters edge and in we go. Step step step, splash, crash. The board drops onto the water, I jump onto the board and we’re away.
The rhythm of paddling, the swoosh and splash. Over and over. The overwhelming surges of salt water that distort and conquer all senses, filling the ears with so much sound you can hear none of it. Then theres the trimming of the board along the wave, the woops and cheers and the chat on the paddle back out.
I enjoy pushing my board over unbroken waves to hear the slap as it comes out of its freefall into the trough, I like the peaceful short moment when you stop paddling once you’re on the wave- the strain of the paddle subsiding into a calmness of the glide. Rising onto the feet, moving away from the water, the sound changes again as you’re no longer at ears height to the water….
So yes, I think that if you stop to think about it, there’s definitely a big chunk of space for sound in surfing, far beyond Jack Johnson or the Beach Boys.