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The Ultimate Surf Instrument: The Ukulele

| posted on July 22, 2010

When I think of Hawaii, I think of blue water, red poke, and four little nylon strings vibrating with their hammock-breezy attitude. Yup. I think of the ukulele. Also known as the uke, this miniature member of the guitar family became a fixture of Hawaiian culture when King Kal?kaua (Hawaii’s last King) gave his ardent support.

During a recent surf trip filming for the much-anticipated Billabong flick, Still Filthy, Hawaiian ripper TJ Barron never let his uke leave his side. Happy to hear the pluck of upstrokes daily, I asked TJ to give me a few pointers on how to start an affair with the ukulele.

First off, how do you pronounce the word? Is it “oo-koo-lay-lay” or “you-cuh-lay-lee”?

It’s “oo-koo-lay-lay.” Uku means flea – like in your hair, and lele means jumping in Hawaiian, so ukulele means jumping flea. I don’t know how they got the name, but I think the Portugese came to Hawaii and brought a lot of instruments and the Hawaiians picked it up and got really good at it.

When did you start playing the ukulele?

I started playing when I was about five or six. I learned it when I was first learning how to survive in the ocean and surf and all that stuff. The ukulele was something natural that I wanted to get into.

Do you bring it everywhere you travel?

It makes me feel good when I play it so I try to take it with me as much as possible.

What’s the first thing you would tell someone considering picking up the first ukulele?

The best advice would be to make sure you get a good one. Get a koa; It’s Hawaiian wood and it sounds the best.

Who do you play with at home?

I play with all the boys, actually with Makua Rothman a bit. He definitely knows how to play the ukulele; we can jam any time and our instruments will sound good together.

What kind of music do you like to play?

Well, I like to write my own music, and some people may not like it, but one day it’s gonna come right.

So when’s the next TJ Barron CD coming out?

One day it’ll get out there! It’ll be something about the North Shore, about all the boys that have been there from day one. And anyone’s welcome to play so long as they play an instrument. We don’t want to leave anyone out. The more the merrier.

Check out the teaser for Still Filthy below.