Beach Boys Brian Wilson Surf Culture

One of the best parts about 2016 is how many different 1966 legends are hitting their 50-year anniversaries. Case in point is The Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds—I can’t count on both hands how many of my friends spent last weekend at the Hollywood Bowl watching Brian Wilson play it through.

When I first decided to move to L.A., my dad would periodically sing, “I wish they all could be California girls,” as if to subliminally affirm my life choices.

While I would have loved to see the Bowl performance, I couldn’t help but feel that it would never top my own experience. As plus-one to one of the crew members on Love & Mercy, the biopic revolving around Brian Wilson’s post-Pet Sounds breakdown, I got to witness the wrap-party version of all those songs I’d grown up loving.

I got up the courage to introduce myself to Paul Dano, who plays young Brian Wilson in the movie, but couldn’t bring myself to approach Brian Wilson himself. There was just a reverence there that I haven’t felt since being in the same parking lot as Harrison Ford (which is a separate story). I couldn’t believe I was around the guy who wrote that stuff.

Surf culture—like a Beach Boys song—can feel overly simplistic. Growing up in a Florida town full of surfers who chased every wave the Atlantic would deign to give us, I sometimes found them silly. Life is more than just tans and Hollister shirts and stopping for fish tacos with your crush, isn’t it?

In high school I’d joke that I was destined never to learn to surf…either the Deerfield Beach weather would misbehave, or the waves would be non-existent, or my friends would decide to call it a day by the time I’d started paddling out.

One West Coast Memorial Day years later, I finally did it. I surfed. (I even stood up on the board, briefly.) And boy, it’s hard…talk about a full-body workout. Not to mention my sunburn earning me the temporary nickname of “Lobster Legs.” I haven’t gone since, truthfully. But in that moment, I finally recognized the importance of the whole thing.

Surfing is probably 90% paddling—the hard, tiring, boring part. It takes so long to get set up to catch a wave, you have lots of time to think about how maybe just floating would be nice enough, and how you regret letting your friend convince you to do this. But once you feel the wave lifting you up, there’s no time to be cynical. All you can think about is how amazing it is to have the sun and the water and the feeling of weightlessness, and how proud you are that you put in all of the work to get there.

Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.

While, as the plot of Love & Mercy shows, Brian Wilson wasn’t able to live a totally carefree life buoyed up on surfer sentiments, it doesn’t make those bright moments less important. In a world full of every sad news story under the sun, it takes a real artist to get us to stop and appreciate the sunlight. To love breaks in the clouds that come from people and projects and payoffs to hard work.

God only knows where I’d be without you.