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The Plight of the Texas surfer

Posted by James Fulbright on

I’m crying foul on a seemingly long-time tradition that has escalated recently within the Texas surfing community. Yeah, I’m going there. I’m talking about the current tag line-”There ain’t no surf in Texas”.

What started out as the name of a great Texas surf film released in the early 2000’s has now turned into a rebel yell of sorts. Now, more so than ever before, Texas surfers feel the unwarranted need to constantly defend the Texas surfing community in general, by posting photos of Texas surfers riding Texas waves and including that same tag-line… every single time.

Texas surfers have always had to deal with skepticism from other surfers outside the state. It’s nothing new. I have been subjected to ridicule, with statements such as, “where’s your cowboy boots and cowboy hat, or do you ride a horse to the beach”? It’s laughable, at best!

We all know Texas gets good waves and we all know we have extremely gifted individuals who, for decades, have continued to showcase our fine state’s surfing talent! Who gives a flying phuck what other people think about us, as surfers? The need to constantly try to maintain some form of hierarchy or respect within the surfing ranks at large is unnecessary.

As the old Yellow Pages tag-line went, “Let your fingers do the walking”, our mantra should be, “let your surfing do the talking”. After all, respect is earned in the water. If you want to know the truth, Texas surfers actually already have a stellar reputation around the world. We are known to be very hospitable, respectful in the water and surprisingly talented in waves of consequence, given the cards that we have been dealt. We have a thriving surf community. We also throw a damn good barbecue.

Geographically speaking, the Texas coastline is predominately blocked by both the state of Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula from receiving swells generated from storms in the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea. To put it bluntly, we have a very small window!

It is rare for legitimate, ocean-born ground swells to hit our shores and we rely mostly on localized wind events, low-pressure systems, the occasional tropical storm or a hurricane to produce ridable surf. In other words, typical surf along the Texas Gulf Coast is primarily defined as inconsistent wind swell and described in size by using body parts, usually in the lower torso area (knee to thigh high).

But when a particular series of weather events come together, we can get very good waves. In between, we get a lot of flat spells, especially in the summer. That is why we started tanker surfing! The surf along the beach-front is erratic. Don’t let that fool you, though. There is surf in Texas.

If you want to be a surfer in Texas you will need to have patience. You need to study the weather as if you were a meteorologist. You will also need a passport and learn to speak Spanish because world class waves are just a 3-hour flight south, in Mexico. Most importantly, you need to be prepared to diplomatically answer the age old, awkward question that gets asked time and time again, “you surf in Texas?”

If there is one thing I have learned in all my travels, it is this: the average person sucks at geography. As a world-wide group, surfers have a better grasp of geography than most because we are all in a constant state of searching the globe for areas with surf potential. It blows my mind how so many people honestly don’t even know that Texas has a coastline!

Even still, they don’t understand that the Gulf of Mexico is not a lake, but a vast body of water that connects to the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean! Folks, we get good surf. It can get big too.

A relatively recent example, albeit rare, happened in 2005 while Hurricane Katrina churned in the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to capsizing, a Gulf of Mexico buoy measured 55.5’ wave heights. That buoy was only 65 miles from shore. A year prior, Hurricane Ivan produced the largest wave heights ever recorded in the Gulf…100’.

A similar geographic surfing wonder is The Great Lakes. Although inland, a hearty, long-time surf culture thrives, surfing icy cold wind swell. The Great Lakes are some of the most infamous and dangerous waters for both surfers and mariners alike. 20-25’ wave heights have been recorded on Lake Michigan. They too are subjected to continued cross-examination pertaining to their legitimacy of being a surfer. The Great Lake surfers and Texas surfers are most definitely kindred spirits who seem to share that common denominator, famously proclaimed by Rodney Dangerfield, “I can’t get no respect”.

But honestly…again…who cares? We surf. We are stoked. We love BBQ.  Nosotros hablamos espanol tambien vato!

If I had a nickel for every time some smart-ass asked me if I rode my horse to the beach, after I had told them I was a Texas surfer… well… I could at least buy a coke! Usually I would just chuckle and say, “yeah partner”. The joke’s on them, though.

Texas has over 350 miles of coastline, much of which is still undeveloped. Hellfire, a horse would be the perfect mode of transportation! Surf spots along the east and west coast of the U.S. are already over crowded but a crowd in Texas on a good day equates to a relatively empty line-up elsewhere. If there are more than 3 people at a break here, I will go somewhere else. There are still many surf spots within my community that I can literally surf alone…and I do.

I learned to surf in Texas. I’m proud of that fact. We have a rich history as Texas surfers. I’ll never forget the gleam in Doc Paskowitz’s eyes when he told me the story about his first surfing related encounter. He told me first-hand that while he was walking along Galveston’s Seawall when he was ten years old (1931), he came upon a group of ‘beach boys’ sharing a bottle of wine under one of the piers. He went on to say he looked down on the beach near them and noticed something strange and went for a closer look. He asked one of the men what the object was and they said it was for ‘wave sliding’.

They evidently were seamen who had brought along a surfboard on their travels; the first surfboard Doc claimed he had ever seen. He said they left the board with him before going back to sea and soon after that, local lifeguard Leroy Colombo showed an interest in the board, so he gave it to him. Leroy Colombo allegedly used the surfboard to save countless lives, utilizing it as a life-saving device.

Doc said that by the time he and his family moved to California, he was already hooked on surfing. Even though he moved away, Doc would continue to visit Galveston to surf with his wife and kids and remained a stoked surfer for the rest of his life.

He was a Texas surfer, through and through and if Texas ever had a surfing ambassador, it would be Doc Paskowitz. He shared stoke and aloha everywhere he went and never hid his true identity: a Texas surfer.

We should continue in his footsteps and share the stoke and aloha of being Texas surfers rather than walk around with a chip on ye ‘ol shoulder because someone asked you if there really was surf in Texas, or whether or not you ride a horse to the beach or if you ever tanker surfed? Just grin and tell ‘em “all the above”. Or, you can answer them in a deadpan tone by saying, “There ain’t no surf in Texas”.

That way, without attaching it to a photo, you won’t be giving away the farm!

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