LOS ANGELES — Maybe he should have been studying – or even surfing.

But Brian Carman had a guitar – a $40 Montgomery Ward’s Airline that he bought with his mom’s credit card. And he had a little group called the Chantays – five guys from Santa Ana High School who thought they could maybe play for dances at the community center.

One afternoon in 1961, he and his pal Bob Spickard got together and traded licks after school. By the end of the day, they had composed what would become one of Southern California’s most recognizable musical exports – an instrumental anthem to riding the waves and living the life, a hard-driving song that begins with a dive-bombing set of notes cherished by virtually every kid who has picked up a guitar in the last six decades.

Carman, who with Spickard co-wrote “Pipeline” when he was 17 and continued to play with the Chantays even as the popularity of surf music hit some deep troughs before cresting again, died Sunday at his Santa Ana home. He was 69.

Carman, who had been ill for some time, had Crohn’s disease and an ulcerated colon, Spickard said.

Carman and the Chantays had no other hits as big as “Pipeline” – but “Pipeline,” while never topping the charts, became bigger than merely a big song.

“It’s like the melody of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,'” said Tim Cooley, a music professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of a 2014 book, “Surfing About Music.” “It’s there, it’s in your head, it’s unforgettable.”

With its hard-driving rhythm and Carman’s cascading introduction, “Pipeline” became embedded in the national consciousness. It has been used in a host of movies and TV shows. In an episode of “The Sopranos,” it was the background music for a cannoli-eating contest.

In 1963, it brought the nervous young Chantays to “The Lawrence Welk Show,” where they strummed and drummed to their prerecorded “Pipeline” as the old pros in Welk’s regular band sat stolidly behind them. The musical bastion of Middle America had never before featured a rock ‘n’ roll group. For years afterward, Welk thanked them at Christmas with cheese logs and gift baskets.

“Our parents absolutely loved it although we might have thought it was somewhat corny,” Spickard said. “But Welk was an absolute gentleman.”

Born Aug. 10, 1945, Carman grew up in Santa Ana. His father worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles and his mother was a legal secretary. His older brother Steve, who played saxophone in a local band called the Rhythm Rangers, inspired Carman and his friends to get into music.

“They were making some money and attracting the girls,” Spickard said. “We thought, ‘Hey – that’s a pretty good idea.’ “