The Inertia Founder
Dick Dale's Surfer's Choice. The photo was shot by SURFER Magazine Founder John Severson at San Clemente Pier.

Dick Dale's Surfer's Choice. The photo was shot by SURFER Magazine Founder John Severson at San Clemente Pier.

The Inertia

If such a thing as surf music exists, Dick Dale invented it. The 73-year-old cancer survivor and world-renowned “King of Surf Guitar” explains the meaning of surf music, clarifies a Jimi Hendrix quote, and shares some words of wisdom.

As the peer-appointed “King of Surf Guitar,” can you speak to what you think surf music is?


Well, what do you think surf music is?

If it exists, I think it has to connect with surfers.

Well what it is, is the meaning of the sounds of the waves, like the echo and the sounds of the tube and my finger would be in the wall and I could hear it go chhhhhhhhhhh! And I’d take my strings and go weeeeeeer! Up high and then you get that rumble just before you’re going to be flung over, you know right before you’re going to go over the fucking falls and get slammed down, all that rumbling and all that stuff like that they associated the heavy Dick Dale staccato picking tk-tk-tk-tk-tk-tk on those strings, it sounded like the barrel of a goddamn wave.

So are you still surfing?

I’m still a longboarder. My shortest board is fat. Guy Takayama made me an incredible board. It’s grey. It looks like a fishing lure, and I hope one of the giant damn sharks doesn’t come after me and eat me. It looks like a giant lure.

Can you speak more about the connection between music and surfing?

The rhythm that you get is the same thing. The rhythm in that water – nothing comes close to that. Nothing. The rhythm of a beautiful glassy wave matches the rhythm of playing music on an instrument and not only that, but the ferocity of Mother Nature’s ocean is the same thing when you hear my guitar growl…The ferocity when you just get into a gnarly wave that just wants to chew you up and spit you out – that’s my guitar when it starts getting angry. So I tell people, I’m not a guitar player. I don’t know what an augmented ninth or thirteenth is, and I don’t give a shit. I make my guitar scream with pain or pleasure, and that’s what it does.

I read that when Jimi Hendrix said “You’ll never hear Surf music again,” that was in reference to your battle with cancer. Is that true?

You know what’s so funny is that they didn’t say the rest of his sentence. Do you know what the rest of the sentence was?

I have no idea.

I had never missed a gig in my life, and I had a temperature of 104, and I couldn’t even talk, but I got hit with rectal cancer and I found Jimi when he was playing bass with Little Richard.

In the beginning Jimi Hendrix was a very humble, quiet person, but he got involved with peers, where as I say, “Watch your own road.”

Anyway, Jimi was recording in the studio and said, “I heard Dale did a no-show. That’s not like him. You know? His guitar player said, “No, man, he’s dying.”

They had given me three months to live. Then Jimi said, “You’ll never hear surf music again.” And then he said, “I bet that’s a big lie. Let’s pack up boys and go home.”

That was the full fucking sentence.

So how are you doing now?

As I say, I’m dealing with the cancer thing and I don’t give a shit what cancer thinks. I’m going to play my goddamn guitar and that’s all there is to it. I’m going to make people happy. I’m going to make them forget about their cancer. I’m going to make them forget about their diabetes. I’m going to make them forget about all their pains and all their bullshit…That’s what my music does for me. It makes people happy. When I play, I thank the Lord I’ve never seen someone walk away from a Dick Dale dance not having a good time. That’s what it’s all about.

If you could give your fans some advice, what would it be?

If I could convince everybody to go surf, I would. Your body follows your mind. Don’t fuck up your mind, because your body will fuck up. Don’t put shit in your mind, because shit will follow in your body, so go out there and do something in Mother Nature and give her the credibility and kudos…I used to sit out there freezing my ass when everybody was going to work with their fur jackets and I’m sitting out there with no goddamn wetsuit and I’d say, “Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to sit here and wait for that wave.” And I tell you, there’s nothing more exciting than dropping in on a glassy wave and seeing a school of fish or a porpoise following you. You can’t buy that. That’s better than any drug. Any bottle of booze. People just use that shit because they’re insecure. And that’s all it is. They can’t stand on their own two feet and fight life like it’s supposed to be.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Read an extended version of the interview on


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