Apollo Bay: a surf song memoir

July 3, 2019 | Surfing
Apollo Bay: 1960s surfers rode waves at Skenes Creek and Wye River | Photo: Creative Commons

Singer-songwriter and one-time surfer Colin Macpherson describes how memories and loves from his deep past led to a new composition whose musical roots link back to the tumultuous 1960s.

Think of the pioneers of modern surfing and the name Duke Kahanamoku will undoubtedly come to mind.

In a similar vein, think of the originators of surf music, and you have to include the Wilson brothers, their cousin, and various friends.

In other words, The Beach Boys.

Most of these young Californians were still teenagers when they put out their first single ("Surfin'") in 1961.

But it was their world-storming song "Surfin' USA" that I remember blowing my young Australian mind in 1963.

The close harmonies, the rising falsetto, the rocking tempo - I was in awe.

And clearly, I wasn't alone - millions of others around the globe were also transfixed by this new type of music.

The Beach Boys: the conquered the world with the lyrics and the message they offered | Photo: Creative Commons

The Message of The Beach Boys

But it wasn't just the sound - the pounding beat, the trebly rhythm guitars, the frantic organ instrumental - it was also the lyrics and the message they offered.

"Young people of the world: leave your pubescent concerns behind, the age of surfing has arrived, and you can be part of it."

So I jumped right into the middle of this mini social revolution.

I was still at school, 15 years old, but I saved my part-time job money and bought a second-hand surfboard. It was old and heavy - the core being made of balsa wood rather than foam - but hey, it was mine.

Soon, I found other kids who were just as enamored with this new craze.

One of them invited me to stay with his family for the summer holidays at a place called Apollo Bay, a small coastal town about 200 kilometers southwest of Melbourne.

Together with some new buddies, we spent every opportunity to get our boards into the waves just down the road or at the nearby locations of Skenes Creek and Wye River.

A central feature of Apollo Bay was the surf-lifesaving club. If you were a member, you could store your board at the clubhouse.

So we all joined, and after an arduous training program, we became qualified surf lifesavers - with each of us now rostered for beach patrol.

This was fine while we were on holiday there, but later in the season, when we were back at school, it was tricky trying to organize a weekend round trip of over 400 kilometers.

For me and my fellow non-drivers, the solution was for my kind old dad to drive us to the city of Geelong, near the start of the Great Ocean Road, and leave us there to hitchhike to Apollo Bay, where we'd stay at the club bunkhouse.

It's all a bit patchy now, but I still recall the fun, the determination, the camaraderie... and the music.

Colin Macpherson: an Australian musician influenced by 1960s surf music | Photo: Colin Macpherson

Making Music and Reliving Memories

Okay, fast forward half a century. I'm now a recording artist.

What I didn't mention earlier, is that even before falling under the spell of The Beach Boys music, I was playing guitar and writing songs.

But it wasn't until much later that I realized I should be giving this part of my life more oxygen.

In 2015, I was writing material for my third album ("Close to Zero"), and somewhere during that time, I started thinking about my teenage years, which led me to memories of surfing and hitchhiking, and friends long lost.

I'd never written a song that openly mentioned moments from my private life - usually relying on imagined settings or oblique commentaries.

But this time I felt compelled to have the lyrics refer directly to snippets from my memory.

I think this compulsion was driven by the music - which almost always comes first with me.

Once I had the basic melody and rhythm, I knew this was going to be a song in the spirit of those early surf songs, and that it was going to be a personal memoir of sorts.

And so, "Apollo Bay" found its way out of my tangle of emotions and memories and musicianship.

It was also one of the first of my songs where I found that I could sing falsetto - a necessity, I thought, for such a work.

You can hear it on Spotify by clicking the link. In a way, I guess it's my little tribute to the past - another time, another world.

Now, you know the background story, maybe it will speak to you too.

Listen to "Apollo Bay" on Spotify.


Words by Colin Macpherson

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