Musicians have always had a strange fascination with surfing. Surf culture exploded into the mainstream in the late fifties after the publication of the book GIDGET and subsequent movie featuring Sandra Dee in the main role. GIDGET was based on the real life experiences of Kathy Kohner and her surfing friends on the beach in Malibu.
The film was a huge success spawning sequels, records and a television series. Hollywood actors started to frequent the beach at Malibu to find out what all the fuss was about and slowly surfing crept into the psyche of mainstream USA. Like a ripple in a pond it was Gidget that brought surfing into mainstream culture around the world.
Surfing might have originated from Hawaiian culture in the middle of the Pacific Ocean but during the late fifties and sixties California, with its bright sun and surf, was ground zero for this new and exciting youth culture phenomena.
Fast forward 15 years and Joey Ramone is standing on a footpath in New York City holding a single fin surfboard and wearing a Snoopy t-shirt. Debbie Harry is staring up at Joey as she leans out of her convertible XKE Jag, smiling at the tall ‘surfer boy’ who has just beaten up a young punk who tried to pick her up.
It’s like a scene from a Fellini film played out by two of the world’s most influential rock stars.
I don’t know if Joey Ramone ever surfed but he is featured in a series of photo shoots on the streets and beaches of New York carrying around a beaten up single fin surfboard. In one series of photographs shot by Roberta Bayley, Ramone can be seen walking the beach at Coney Island heading for the waves. His denim shorts revealing a pair of pale skinny legs. You couldn’t find a scene further removed from the sun and surf of California if you tried.
For a singer noted for wearing black leather and jeans it is an unusual sight. The boy from Forrest Hills New York carrying a surfboard, capturing the heart of the blond surfer girl and finally riding a wave at Coney Island makes for a fascinating exploration on the power of surfing and its influence on musicians and mainstream popular culture.
Maybe Joey was influenced by his good mate Iggy Pop the rock icon who invented crowd surfing. Iggy had found one way to catch a wave… and not get wet.
Written by John Foss