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The Eliminators in the news

Surf music revival sweeps up party band

The Eliminators were well-respected in the surf genre.


This is a true story about how surfing brought together one of the most commercially successful SoCal surf bands of the '90s.

It all started in The Doheny Long Board Surfing Association Surf Club. In 1993, it scheduled its annual '60s Surf Contest. The rules said you could ride only pre-1968 longboards, 9 feet or longer. You had to dress the part, too. That meant no modern wetsuits and no leashes.

The Surf Club decided to have a jam session after the contest, using some of the organization's musical talent. Member Chuck McElvain, a surfer and guitar player who worked for Fender Guitars, recruited the talent. He hooked up with Joe Kurkowski, Preston Wilson, Doug Harlow, Bill Swanson and some other buddies from Fender.

After they jammed, club members held a name-the-band contest. They dropped names in a hat, and the winner was "The Cowabunga Thunder Melvins." It was submitted by Mike Emery, a longtime San Clemente surfer. The newly minted Cowabunga Thunder Melvins then rocked the party with some great-sounding '60s instrumental surf music.

They had so much fun, Wilson and Kurkowski decided to keep the band together. Only the name had to go. The Cowabunga Thunder Melvins was catchy but much more than a mouthful. In its place, they came up with The Eliminators, which was their tribute to the famous surfboard model of the same name. It was the creation of the renowned Huntington Beach board builder, Bob "The Greek" Bolen.

And there they were, with Kurkowski on lead guitar, Wilson playing rhythm guitar, Doug Harlow on the drums, Swanson blowing sax and Frank Hughes, who was brought in to play bass.

Unfortunately for them, the music they'd chosen to play had been assaulted by the British band invasion of the mid-'60s. Almost forgotten were the songs of the instro groups they revered, including The Surfaris ("Wipeout" and "Surfer Joe"), The Chantays ("Pipeline") from Santa Ana, The Lively Ones ("Surf Rider") from Anaheim and The Belairs ("Mr. Moto").

Almost two decades later, a low-budget, hit movie brought surf music back to life. It was called "Pulp Fiction." Director Quentin Tarantino filled the movie's soundtrack with music from several popular '60s surf bands. Suddenly, The Eliminators were in year-round demand. During the winter, they appeared in ski resorts in Vail, Colo.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and Mammoth Mountain. When summer arrived, they made it over to Hawaii, where, of course, they made time get some surfing in.

During this revival period, they wrote their own scorching original songs, like "Bone Cruncher," "Punta Baja," "Rincon" and "Dawn Patrol." The group became so popular that Budweiser put their music in Bud Light beer commercials and sponsored a 25-city tour. They broke into TV, with two appearances on "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "The View." They also shared the stage with Jimmy Buffett, Chris Isaak, Midnight Oil, Dick Dale and The Rembrandts. Buffet liked them so much that when he had a private party, he hired The Eliminators to play there.

Their distinct sound was imported for the TV show "Providence" and for a number of surfing movies that came out in the '90s. They could also be heard regularly on the Mark and Brian radio show on KLOS/95.5 FM.

The Eliminators were so well-respected in the surf genre that they were invited to play in The Rendezvous Ballroom Reunion Concert in 2000. They appeared with many of the first-wave surf bands such as The Chantays, The Lively Ones, The Belairs, The Nocturnes and, of course, Dick Dale.

The commercial success of The Eliminators has not kept them from donating their time. They've played for a Laguna Beach fire victims charity and given free concerts for kids at numerous schools. Recently, the band was inducted into the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum's Hall of Fame.

The band just hired Tim Ferrill as its new manager. A Huntington Beach native, Ferrill grew up surfing in Huntington Beach and listening to all the great surf bands of the '60s.

Ferrill says the group's reverence for the history of surfing and the music it spawned are evident in the instruments they use. "They still play only early '60s vintage Fender guitars and blond Fender Showman amps," he says, "and their unique sound will transport you right back to the early '60s, when a famous surfer named Lance Carson coined the term 'surf music.' "

On a personal note … I kinda liked the Cowabunga Thunder Melvins name. Oh, well.

Check out "The Eliminators" at or

Contact the writer: Check out Corky's "Ask the Expert" feature at The three-time international and five-time U.S. surfing champion also writes in Thursday's Huntington Beach Wave. E-mail him at

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