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Local Economist Rocks With Surf Style

If one wanted to listen to surf rock for one month straight, 24 hours a day, they should look no further than Dr. Ivan Pongracic, Hillsdale College Chair in Austrian Economics. Pongracic owns 700 surf rock CDs and recently flexed his personal surf talents performing at the Roxy in downtown Hillsdale.

Pongracic plays lead guitar for the recently formed surf quartet The Madeira. Their music embodies authentic surf, focused wholly on energetic instrumentals with aggressive double picking guitar.

“Some people consider the music too strange and walk out, but very rarely,” Pongracic said. “Most people really enjoy it and get into it. We’ve had very good responses so far.”

Since formation in late spring 2004, The Madeira has played a handful of shows. Their website,, hosts live video clips as well as streaming music samples.

Though two band members’ wives are expecting children in the upcoming months, Pongracic hopes the band will record an album over the summer to be released at a later date.

“We’re an original band and we want to record a CD,” Pongracic said.

Around 40 people visited the Roxy Jan. 22 to see The Madeira and Pongracic’s secondary band, The Troubadors.

While Pongracic can joke about the relatively small turnout at the Roxy, he can also offhandedly and humbly list his musical accomplishments. Pongracic’s college surf band, the Space Cossacks, released two successful albums which remain available on The recently-released Kelly Slater: Pro Surfer video game includes a Space Cossacks track as well.

As a testament to his success, the Space Cossacks once opened for legendary surf act Dick Dale & His Del-Tones. The Space Cossacks also played with the aggressive punk act Agent Orange while on their Safari USA tour.

Pongracic can ably list his numerous musical contacts spanning popular rock, punk and surf bands. He is a surf guitarist who knows his history and has experienced success in his field, as is apparent to anyone with whom he converses.

Pongracic’s association with surf strikes many as unique, considering his doctorate in economics.

“It’s weird to sit in a suit and tie and discuss surf, but it’s what I love,” Pongracic said. “I like playing in rocking bands, and it’s not like I’m biting the heads off of bats.”

History of Surf

Pongracic’s love of surf music was fostered in his homeland of Croatia, long before he knew that the surf genre existed. Pongracic’s father, Ivan Pongracic, Sr., had a strong affinity for the popular European band The Shadows. Pongracic draws strong parallels between the Shadows of pre-1960, and the surf scene that would develop in California in the early 1960s.

The Shadows experienced unparalleled success throughout the world, but never had a following in America. Nostalgia emanates from Pongracic when discussing the Shadows, but combines with confusion as to their absence from America.

Pongracic’s father eventually toured the Adriatic Coast semi-professionally in a Shadows cover band. Both Pongracics play today in The Troubadors, a Shadows cover band.

At age 14, Pongracic moved to America. By this time, the southern California surf movement was well underway due to the musical prowess of one man: Dick Dale.

While much of surf music grows out of rockabilly instrumentals, Pongracic attributes three elements of surf to Dale’s style.

Dale began playing guitar far more aggressively than those musicians before him. Dale, often described as a megalomaniac, would boast of blowing up 50 Fender amplifiers before they could build one loud enough and durable enough for his playing.

A second technical aspect of Dale’s playing was his introduction of reverb distortion, an effect which could add fuzz or an underwater sound to surf playing.

Finally, as will become apparent to anyone who has encountered a surf song, exotic influences seem to seep into the guitar-driven melodies. Dale, hailing from a Lebanese background, made an effort to incorporate Middle Eastern, African and Greek vibes into his guitar plucking.

Dale was also a surfer and played primarily for surfing crowds in California. It was from this powerhouse individual that surf took off.

Pongracic managed to see Dale perform on his reunion tour in 1992, and would later open for him with the Space Cossacks.

“It blew my mind,” Pongracic said. “The guy’s playing really hard in his 60s.”

Dale’s music was later covered by numerous artists, including the Beach Boys. Pongracic distinguishes between the Beach Boys and authentic surf music.

“Most surf fans are interested in instrumentals,” Pongracic said. “The stuff I like is more dark, exotic, and heavy.”

Modern Scene

Pongracic, somewhat of a surf historian, also takes great interest in the development of surf over the past 20 years. He notes a small revival in the 1980s, as well as a resurgence around 1994.

The 90s surf movement can greatly be attributed to the film Pulp Fiction. Dale’s most famous song, “Misirlou” appears as the opening song in the film. An additional surf song appears in the soundtrack.

“The amazing thing is that over the last 10 to 15 years the scene has become international,” Pongracic said.

The Scandinavian Peninsula seems to be the hotbed of modern surf. Bands such as The Lunatics, The Langhorns, the Bent Tornadoes, the Treble Spankers and the Phantom Four come from the peninsula.

Pongracic is writing a three-part article on the Scandinavian surf scene over the last four to five years on the web at

Japan, which Pongracic dubs the, “cultural deposit of America,” also hosts a thriving surf scene still riding the popularity of the 1960s act The Ventures. The Surf Coasters have scheduled American tours.
“There is no language barrier and it is evocative music,” Pongracic explains.

By Anthony Gonzalez
From The Hillsdale Collegian Feb. 10th, 2005.
Copyright © 2005, The Hillsdale Collegian

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