Wiped Out

The asinine battle between Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz over which municipality can more legitimately call itself “Surf City” continues, but no one has yet addressed the real issue: specifically, Jan and Dean are shitty. “Surf City” is the most undeservedly popular song after “The Twist,” with a wobbly falsetto, boring lyrics and sloppy execution. If a coastal county city wants to appropriate an oldie to spin its tourist-bureau myth, why not “Surfer Joe”? That 1963 single by the Surfaris not only mentions Huntington Beach and Dana Point but is also the best song ever recorded about Orange County.

It's a strange little tune, markedly different from its frenetic surf-rock brothers. A laconic drum beat and rhythm guitar anchor an ambling lead guitar and the melancholy yodeling of Surfaris lead singer Ron Wilson. But it's in its spartan, descriptive lyrics that “Surfer Joe” makes for a time capsule that grows more bittersweet with each red-algae bloom.

“Down in Doheny where the surfers all go/There's a big, bleached blondie named Surfer Joe,” the track starts, as the Surfaris sketch out the pristine beauty that was the early 1960s Orange County coast. Joe, Wilson sings, haunts “the playground of the surfers, Doheny Beach,” and sweeps the contests up PCH at Huntington Beach. But reality soon ruins his idyll: the Marines draft Joe, who goes AWOL and flees to the sanctuary of Trestles.

None of Orange County's other indigenous artists—not Dick Dale, not the Chantays, not even the Tiki Tones—ever delivered such a rose-colored valentine to Orange County. Yet today “Surfer Joe” remains but a post card about the paradise that can never return: Dana Point officials killed Doheny and its legendary Killer Dana break when they built Dana Point Harbor in 1965.

What's worse, “Surfer Joe” never received the same adulation as “Surf City”—it was sunk by its own flip side, “Wipe Out.”

“'Surfer Joe' was a Top 100 hit—it just didn't have the energy of 'Wipe Out,'” says original Surfaris guitarist Bob Berryhill, a Laguna Beach resident who still tours under the Surfaris name when he's not leading the musical program at Calvary Chapel South County in San Juan Capistrano. “But I have people walk up to me and say their favorite song is 'Surfer Joe.' It's all nostalgia.”

Berryhill grew up in Glendora but still relishes his memories of early 1960s Orange County. “Because the 57 freeway hadn't been built, we'd go down Highway 39 if we wanted to visit Orange County,” he says. “We'd hit PCH. Take a left, that's Doheny. Right is LA. And straight ahead was Huntington Beach.

“Doheny had the most variety of good waves in Southern California,” continues Berryhill. “It was the mecca for people who wanted a couple of varieties of breaks—for good surfers, for beginners, for everyone. Those were the good ol' days.”


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