I wouldn’t describe myself as the world’s biggest Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but whenever I’m packing up the car to go surfing I always seem to find myself humming Road Trippin’, the acoustic coda from their 1999 album Californication.
Road trippin’ with my two favourite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It’s time to leave this town
It’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost
Anywhere in the USA
Mellow, meditative, pregnant with possibilities... even though it only contains a single, fleeting reference to surfing, it is still – in my humble opinion – the pop song that best captures the vibe of a good surf trip. Sure, the Beach Boys may have created the original blueprint with Surfin’ Safari, but it’s too full of energy. Way too full of energy. Nobody in the real world has ever been quite that excited about going surfing. Put it this way: if you were setting off on a surf trip right now, and you had to choose between having the Beach Boys circa 1962 performing Surfin’ Safari live in your car all the way to the beach, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers circa 1999 performing Road Trippin’, you’d choose the Chilis every time. If you went with the Beach Boys and got stuck in traffic you’d either have a heart attack or defenestrate Brian Wilson or both. And, frankly, that poor man’s been through enough.
Anyway, the point is that Road Trippin’, with its sparse, repetitive acoustic guitar backing and dreamy vocals, sounds exactly like a surf trip is supposed to sound. It’s the aural equivalent of cruising the Pacific Coast Highway with the window down and your hair blowing in the breeze, squinting out at the sea and watching the light playing on the water as the telegraph poles tick by. It is the ultimate stress-buster. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much – because more often than not, when I’m getting ready to go surfing, time is of the essence. This is particularly true when it comes to post-work surfs during the summer months, sessions that are almost always a race against the dying of the light, when every minute wasted is one less minute in the water. And the tighter the timing, the faster I find myself humming Road Trippin’. One night the other week, if they’d happened to be listening, the neighbours would’ve been treated to a triple-tempo speed metal version. I arrived home from work much later than planned, hauled the boards out of the shed, accidentally smacked them on the side of the house, dinged them against on the gate, strapped them to the roofrack and then went hunting for dinner. A half-full pot of pasta on the stove? That’ll do nicely. Chopsticks? Nope. Fork? Bingo. The doorbell goes. It’s little brother. No messing around. He takes his cue from my frazzled expression and the manic speed at which I am now humming Road Trippin’. We jump into the car, I hand him the pan and the fork and start the engine. Every time we reach a red light I start shovelling pasta. When the lights change, little brother gives me the heads-up and I stop shovelling and start driving. By the time we’ve reached the city limits, I am pleasantly full and humming Road Trippin’ at something approaching normal speed. And there are still a couple of hours of daylight left – all will be well.
It turns out to be one of those perfect summer evenings, too, when the wind drops away to nothing and the water is like liquid silver. The surf is small, but that’s OK, because the waves are peeling forever and we’ve brought longboards – the foam and fibreglass equivalents of Cadillac DeVilles. Once you’ve hooked into a wave there’s not much to be done: bend the knees a little and bank ever-so-gently off the bottom; straighten the legs, lean forward a bit and arc ever-so-gently off the top. And repeat. Bend and flex, bend and flex. Then paddle back out and do it again. It’s rhythmic, soothing, almost hypnotic. The sun dips below the horizon somewhere beyond the Bass Rock, but there’s still enough light to see by and the waves keep pouring in. A hazy moon appears. A couple of other surfers paddle in and make a fire on the beach – a handy beacon to navigate by. One more wave each, we agree, and we’ll go in too. I fall half way through mine. OK, one more good wave. One more good wave each, a wave ridden to a satisfactory standard.
After three more good waves each we’re finally done, back on the path, stumbling our way to the car, swatting moths. No music on the stereo on the way home, and – mercifully – none in my head either. n