Freaky Tiki
arts & culture

Freaky Tiki

Tiki culture, surfing, and Halloween weirdness. Three seemingly independent entities that are more entwined than you'd think...

The history of tiki culture dates back to ancient Polynesia where tiki statues were carved to represent an embodiment of a god or specific power. In the 1930s, tiki culture came to North America in the form of tiki bars and restaurants catered to those who longed to escape to a tropical island. At the end of Prohibition, Hollywood saw its first Polynesian-themed bar called “Don’s Beachcomber” after its creator, Don Beach. Don had served in World War II, been a businessman, and avid traveller so his bar incorporated elements from every aspect of his life; He created tiki drinks such as the Three Dots & A Dash cocktail which was morse code for “V” as in “victory”. Post-war America saw many veterans out celebrating and more and more places like Don’s began to pop up.

“Sailor Jerry” Collins

Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was a famous tattoo artist whose imagery was heavily influenced by his time served in the US Navy (and yes-that Sailor Jerry dark rum you throw back on weekends is, in fact, his creation too). Many sailors would get tattoos by him to mark certain accomplishments; swallows to signify, having sailed 5000 miles, or pin-up girls to remind them of life back home. Norman eventually settled down in Hawaii to establish a full-time career in tattooing and as a result, many of his tattoo flash was filled with beachy subject matter.

“Sailor Jerry” Collins

The tiki culture we know today is Polynesian, Hawaiian, and Oceania as viewed through the lens of Hollywood glamor. Bright colours, flower leis, flaming torches and glamorized starlets propelled the Hollywood image of tiki culture in movies and tv with shows like Gilligan’s Island and handfuls of films starring Elvis Presley. By the 1960’s, exploitation films were becoming popular in the b-movie genre with a lot of film themes centering around exotic settings and storylines. This era of tiki began to merge sci-fi and horror elements as seen in movies like Creature From The Black Lagoon. This was the beginning of tiki culture fusing with alternative and underground realms like rock n’ roll and rockabilly—which had already begun blending Hollywood/Americana culture with darker elements of horror.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Many musicians in the underground scene became influenced by tiki aesthetics and adopted them in their imagery. Influences from the Hollywood movies, collecting of traditional tattoo designs, and the boom of rock n’ roll was the perfect recipe. The Cramps have most famously tied these worlds together with bright coloured logos and lyrical themes about monsters and bikini-clad women. There’s also countless surf bands who’ve fused classic vintage surf sounds with the more unconventional, rough-around-the-edges, horror aesthetics. 

Rods n Ratfinks

The Cramps

At this point, surf and tiki culture are a perfect match for horror enthusiasts and Halloween lovers. It’s a fun way to be campy and pair seemingly opposing worlds together. Where else are you gonna find shrunken heads, bikini-clad femme fatales, sci-fi references, and out-of-this-world creatures living in harmony together?

Go With The Flow Vol. 2: Surf the Graves by DJ Waves


DJ Waves

DJ Waves is a Toronto based creative who's been in the music industry for 8+ years. She's a regular on the resident DJ team for Budweiser Stage, moonlights as a guest host on U of T's CIUT radio station, and is a frequent headbanger at local shows. Spinning vinyl and digital tracks, her sets span every genre and time-period, making for an eclectic collection of sounds that is groovy, nostalgic, daring, and euphoric. Her sets and playlists often draw on a variety of experiences and interests that form her unique sound. She's got a penchant for hats, muscle cars, the desert, and coffee. If she's not behind a DJ booth she's most likely at Toronto's Cherry Beach, floating on a SUP or taking an aimless drive at sunset with the radio cranked. Find her on Instagram.