Ask someone for an example of surf music, then get ready for many different answers. Some will say "Beach Boys", some will say "Dick Dale", some will talk about the Ventures or Duane Eddy. They are all correct.
Surf music developed in Southern Califonia at a time of relative peace and affluence. Surfing was just one of many interesting pastimes available to young people. The music of the time reflected that. There was country and honky tonk, r&b and soul, progressive jazz and rock n' roll. All these sounds found their way into surf music.
Surf music combined flamenco guitar and middle eastern folk melodies with the new electric country music from Phoenix and Bakersfield. Chuck Berry's pentatonic riffs and Bo Diddley's driving rhythm blended with exotica and tropical sounds of the Pacific islands.
The new electric instruments pioneered by Leo Fender took this synthesis to another level. Electric bass combined with drums to make muscular rhythm for loud electric guitars which by themselves created a new vocabulary of sounds; thundering glissandos, incisive tremolo picking, whammy bars, reverb and tube distortion. We're accustomed to these sounds now, but in the early 60s, they were futuristic. The original surf bands were pioneers on the frontiers of music.
The surf-revival of the 80s and 90s brought a similar energy with the DIY ethic of punk and the culture jamming of film noir, horror and burlesque into the mix. So surf music isn't about nostalgia for another time, it's about extending known cool things into new cool things.
So here we have the great diversity of modern surf music. There are neo traditionalists like Slacktone and Surfer Joe, fulminating space punk like Daikaiju and Retrofuguetes, and psychedelic voyagers like the Mermen and Insect Surfers. The field is small but diverse. All you have to do is start with the basics. Learn the classic songs and then let your inspiration carry you to the new frontiers of the most exciting music... Surf!