Surf Champion Tom Curren Rides West Coast Folk on 'In Plain View'

Star athlete experiments with funk and psychedelia on new album

tom curren in plain view
Joseph Aguirre
Tom Curren
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Tom Curren does a good job of keeping his careers separate; the three-time surfing world champion only references his sport once on his new folk-pop album, In Plain View. "There's really only three things you can write music about: girls, cars and surfing," he jokes to Rolling Stone. Then he adds more seriously, "It hasn't been something I've focused on, trying to describe the feeling of riding waves. It's hard to describe, really, without being pretty stereotypical and clichè."

Curren, who has been a professional surfer since the early 1980s, has also written and recorded music since the early 1990s. "I did an instrumental jazz album," recalls the soft-spoken athlete. "That was my first album." He took a decade-long break before releasing his second record, Curren, and also retreated from competitive athletics in that time to focus on a sponsored surf-travel campaign called "The Search."

Photos: Musician Athletes

With In Plain View, Curren travels the familiar West Coast landscape of the Eagles and the Beach Boys with Mark Knopfler-style guitars and tropical folk melodies (complete with a "Hotel California" reference). The album also allows room for new experimentation, as evidenced by the funky rock of "First" and the ballad "Gerry," which closes with a blazing psychedelic guitar solo. Songs are straightforward and nothing passes the four-and-a-half-minute mark, an intentional decision. "I actually was consciously trying to emulate bands like Bruce Springsteen, and just trying to emulate what they do structurally," explains Curren. Several moments strive for that sort of lyrical unity, too; on the track "First," the refrain "When they first met" bleeds slowly into a pronoun of "we."

As a surfer, Curren is known for being elusive and fiercely competitive. As a musician, he is relishing the crossover popularity of his wave-riding skills and will utilize it on his spring West Coast tour. "I've been [surfing] for a long time, so the plus side is when we do a show and people come see and they go 'Oh, that was good.' They like me, even if I don't play well, because I've been very fortunate to have people like how I surf," he explains. He calls songwriting "a big mystery," however – but one he is equally determined to ride out. "It's fascinating to me, that whole thing, and it's hard. It's really hard. But I like it."