HE BEGINS BY POSITIONING HIS body facedown on the deck of a board—his chin gently resting somewhere near the tip. After cupping his hands, he places his arms in the water and swings them in a circular motion, looking something like a windmill submerged halfway into the water. He maneuvers his board in front of an oncoming wave, and as the board moves forward, he grabs hold of both sides and hoists his upper body off the board. The surfer then places both feet on the deck of the board in an attempt to stand upright so that the actual act—the surfing—may begin.
Some Texans might scoff at the relevance of such instruction—there’s no surf in Texas they say. But the state’s surfing community has grown weary of such claims (frequently made by inland residents and surfers living outside the state), and some have even lost the motivation to correct them. The people behind these claims have either never visited the state’s beaches or simply restrict their walks of the 367 miles of coastline to clear summer days, days conducive to relatively dead surf. “People come to the beach during the summer for vacation and assume there’s no surf. They don’t head to the beach when it’s raining,” says Stephen Hadley, co-founder of Gulf Coast Surf, a quarterly publication devoted to Texas surfing. Hadley and Allan Graves began publishing GC Surf more than a year ago and have since become well acquainted with the industry. Hadley believes the Gulf Coast’s reputation for wave inadequacy stems from the nature of beach travel: The weather of fall or spring (and sometimes even winter)—but generally not summer—produces the cleanest waves, the most generous swells. “Twenty to twenty-five knot localized wind swells generate Gulf Coast waves. You want hard onshore winds followed by offshore winds (winds that blow off the land and into the water), winds often brought by frontal passages from the north. Or you want something like Tropical Storm Isidore, which generated overhead waves. Hurricanes and tropical storms produce the same effect as a pebble dropping into water,” explains Hadley. This type of weather—so rarely seen in summer’s relatively inactive months—can result in three- to six-foot swells in Galveston, eight- to ten-foot swells in South Padre Island.
Compare these waves with those one might encounter in California, where swells generated by south Pacific storms create six to fifteen foot waves and those generated by large north Pacific storms push eighteen to thirty foot waves toward the coast, and one better understands comments concerning Texas’ lack of surf. Surfer diction provides the most suitable moniker for Texas surf:”ant waves,” or waves of perfect form whose height better accommodates a surfing ant. But such comments seem to have produced little to no effect on the Texas surfing industry—business is booming. “Pop culture has sparked interest in surfing. Blue Crush and MTV’s Surf Girls have generated surfing buzz. They’ve also shattered the image of the Fast Times at Ridgemont High surfing stoner,” says Hadley. “Doctors, lawyers, and professionals now flock to the sport. It’s quite expensive—a billion dollar industry.” Surf’s up in more ways than one. Hadley himself embodies this evolving surfing image. During the week, he works as the Texas City Independent School District’s communications director; GC Surf is a weekend hobby. Tippy Kelley, owner of Corpus Christi’s Dockside Surf Shop agrees: “Surfing in Texas started getting popular in the sixties after migrating from California.” She remembers the high-pitched songs of the Beach Boys and the development of professional surfing as cementing its popularity. Kelly believes recent pop culture references to the surfing community have produced the same effect: “Blue Crush had a big impact.”
Should you want to join the surfing trend, the Texas Gulf Coast provides a more than adequate number of venues. Hadley believes that South Padre is the best place to go. “Because of its position in relation to the Continental Shelf, it gets deeper there quickly. You get better swells and cleaner waves.” Port Mansfield—though difficult to reach (it requires a boat ride or a lengthy car trip through sand dunes)—has good surf as well. Bob Hall Pier and Horace Caldwell Pier in the Corpus Christi-Port Aransas area come in at number three, and Matagorda, Surfside, Galveston, and Meacom’s Bay complete Hadley’s top-spot list, filling in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh slots, respectively. Those seeking more critically acclaimed surfing spots outside Texas but frequented by Texans should head to Mexico, Costa Rica, and California. Happy waves!