Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Cowboy From Hell! unedited version!
Cowboys from Hell
A Tall Tale About Surfing Texas' Third Coast
Words and Photos by Jon Steele
You will never know these people!.. They are not in demand by top surf magazines, they are not the next world champions or heros of the action sports industries. Unfortunately most Americans don't even know that the state of Texas borders the great Gulf of Mexico giving access to some of the worlds best fishing, hunting and surf well maybe not surf. Texans are lifeguards, fisherman, hunters, farmers and committed waterman, they are proud of their state, friends, surf and lifestyles and happy to share. Some have surfing talent, some don't, but they all call Texas home and they all call themselves surfers!
I was bitten by the surf bug at at the age of 10 or so from a photo of Pipeline i got from National Geographic or Ranger Rick as a grom. Ironically because most things in Texas either bite, scratch, cut or sting. My surfing youth found our version of the Bad Boy Club (hodgepodge gang of surfers) tripping deep into Mexico on cheap buses to all night bonfires to holding down the pier when the surf finally came together. Finding surf in Texas means several trips up and down the 300+ miles of beach-breaks groins and piers, it means dealing with onshore, sideshore currents, lightning storms , hail, 4 wheelin' to Mansfied, chasing Tankers, punchy beach breaks and outta control hurricane swells. It don't come easy any way you slice it.
I grew up in Corpus Christi, a bay-town with surf potential on the opposite side of the barrier island. I spent most of my surfing years there and South Padre not venturing north too much as the waves seem to be more consistent down south. We were driven by stoke and the pursuit of good times..These barrier islands create massive marsh estuaries and are known as South Padres Islands as opposed to Galveston Island and the chain that reaches to the north towards the Mississippi river.
On the Eastern bastard son offshoot of California known as the Texas surfing community, though a couple months behind the West coast our version had surf movies in the theatre as kid seeing the cool "older" surfers partying and emulated anything that was going on in the scene we saw in the magazines. There were no skate parks as a kid so we built a lot of ramps with stolen wood and visited nearby San Antonio and Austin where the music and skate scene was a little more happening. There was music all our own for a soundtrack to live by and a plethora of back yard ramps to skate, there were tons of photos of spots going' off all the time, just no one ever asked to see 'em. Shane would drop hits of acid into your beer when you were on a date unknowingly and contest nights were spent in parking lots with 6 people to a truck so we could compete in waist-high slop the next morning. The pier was a local hangout as is Huntington and the San Clemente pier are to their respectable homes..We were not the first surfers nor the last the history of texas surfing is an amazing story of which I learn more on every year.. We strived to be the best among our peers but never really looked past the dune line looking west except to go surf.
Galveston takes up the northern surf area with quite a few piers and jetty systems, but unfortunately this is usually the smallest of the surf window. But with the right hurricane in the Gulf it can produce the cleanest of the spots up and down the coast. Unfortunately, we never really surfed up there except for Tanker Surfing which works on totally different set ups and conditions. I’d heard of stories of surfing tanker-wakes but blew it off as a myth . . . We all did. I found out later that this wasn't a tall tale, but a shoulder high wave that goes for four miles and is one of the most amazing things I have seen in my life.
The History of TX surfing is as vast as the sky that blankets the great state and as interesting to boot. From heroic stories of Joy saving lives and the amazing group of lifeguards I worked under and the parties we had to lost photos and photographers of perfect days gone by. Texas legends like Woody Woodworth, Chris Ward, Josh Hoyer, Ken Bradshaw & Jimmy Metyko all seem to slip through the cracks but the local legends stay!
As you might have guessed by the lack of coverage, Texas isn't always the best surf destination. Yet every dog has its day and if you ask around, there's gonna be more stories of good days than flat ones. Waves as good as I have seen in any surf publication or my travels around the world. "We all hang on to weather reports about fronts like they are the holy grail. -Sean "El Burro" Branon
Texas surf is generated by several conditions. The Third coast is fickle like any place and you have to do your time to get it good. Onshore wind is usually a good thing and it has be 30 mph + to produce shoulder high surf. Northerns that blow through send steep offshore winds until they blow the remaining surf flat.
We used the "drift method" where a surfer would drop off a car at one pier and the other surfers piled into another car and drive to the next pier 3 miles away. We’d drift back to the pick-up the abandoned car and do it all over again. We didn’t get surf all the time, so when it got good you had to go. Changing weather is a huge wave maker and you MUST drop everything in order to get surf when it pops!
There are stories of mysto spots, like tanker surfing, Surfers' Isle, the Cove and point waves created by jetty and channel set ups with no one on 'em. Like The Jetty Monster, Tamela from TGSA and other amazing women who charge it.. Bob Hall Pier, one of the main structures and wave producing spots on the coast, nowadays likens itself to our version of Huntington with every grom frothing to get the coverage from the hand full of local photographers. This is the spot I would frequent most as a grom as well as JP Luby surf pier finding our own version of Pier Rat status.
During the rain squalls, the sand gets packed tight by the driving rain and the smell of rotting sargasm in the bay is over whelming when it gets hot out and will attatch itself to your leash reaching about 3o pounds of drag until you remove it. Many other strenuous factors come into play when surfing the Gulf; jelly fish, man of wars, sea lice, stingrays, dehydration,being hot (damn hot) most of the year and freezing the rest. But on the right day the right conditions it can be the best place in the world to be with no one out or all of your friends out! there are some many different variations, sizes and swell combos you just have to be on the beach waiting for it to turn on, cause in 2 hours the beach will be a whole different scene.
When all the factors do line up and the surf gets good each individual will surf 3-4 times a day, skip work, ditch dates and finagle any way they can to surf all day and I mean all day!! Finding yourself surfing as if it were the last session of your life as the next flat spell could be a month..
Chunks of crusted salt from my last session have formed on my now blistering reddish skin and nose. The Air was a stiffling 92 degrees with 80% humidity , water 82 degrees and only a slight hint of relief from the 15 mph onshore breeze that made the waist to stomach high fun surf. The beach was crowded with trucks and people as summer was in full swing. At the age of 16 this was the first time I got drunk in the hot texas sun. A prequel from the party at T-bones house that spilled over to Codys the next night. These are nights you will never forget as older surfers accepted us younger surfers to their parties. A ritual that would become and everyday occurrence as i was baptized into my teenage years and the flat spells which plague the great Lone Star state.
One thing you could count on producing waves, the surfer just had to be on the right side of the wind for them. We had time to prepare as we could see 'em coming. Which jetty blocks the current, how far away from the eye the surfer needs to be to get offshore winds. Big wave boards come outta the closet as true surfers had been harboring them for years. The 'Canes bring destruction and death such as Rita and Katrina but offer some of the best waves Texas has ever seen or documented. We are scoring when someone else is getting their ass handed to them! The destruction vs. waves depends on the category of the storm and if it hits landfall in a city or in someone's cow pasture. Hurricanes: vs. Tropical depressions and just weather moving in general!
In this lush and expansive riviera fields clustered with mesquite trees, cows and cow patties, Huge thunderstorms move across the vast sky, the beaches and wind cool off as the pitch black storm creates a few water spouts out to sea. Hail begins to fall and the white off shore foam becomes a brilliant contrast to the glassy emerald overhead waves. South Padre trips ( a beach 2 hours south of Corpus) were like traveling to California on a surf trip as the surf was usually better and lack of silt deposited from the great Mississippi river doesn't make it down this far revealing an aqua blue/green water to bask in .
My first job was working at the gun club which included the tasks of pulling skeet, chewing Red-man and drinking beers. This would still be the greatest job i have had to this day despite the rattle snakes and scorpions we had to clear out of the traps in the morning. My cousin had locked the keys in our truck , the chicks we were with split and a strange sickness had just come over me due to overexposure in the sun which was now starting drop. A young beautiful lifeguard had appointed herself to help u ...the surf had been amazing for weeks and we opted to stay longer as we would surf all day find college girls to bum housing, food, booze and sex off. Tehe mexican boarder is about 15 mins. drive from the beaches and after cheep beers and jello shots await us in the foreign land as this rite of passage continues to this day.
On a particular week long party we finally got a place to crash at my punker/surfer/shaper friend Mike Samano's. We were stoked as it had been raining, but his chick came home and found us making a huge batch of electric cool-aid in her kitchen and kicked us out. South Padre opened our eyes in more levels than we could have ever imagined. Oil and cows are the states biggest export and the later produce more than just meat. electric cool-aid to trade out for lodging booze etc.. If timed right after a rain the patties yeilded a field full of thick deep purple mushrooms with a gold ring on the lid.. Because different colleges break at separates times, locals set up to sell beer bongs up to 4 weeks of onslaught beautiful Onslaught of chaos of kids ooling to lose their inhibitions..quaaludes were abundant. from keggers on the beach to raging house parties. From egg raids on mojo / neighborhood trench wars (four wheelin' through people's front yards) mosh pits in moving motor vehicles, LSD for the masses, bonfires, boobs, surf, mental mayhem , getting "discoed" when you passed out. ( a ritual of drawing on or any other degrading substance we could find to make sure you knew you messed up.) We raised riots and created chaos & living to our fullest! -Mark Bueno
The golden grass swaying in the warm spring breeze with a little bite to the water as its late to warm up with the land, fall and spring are my favorite times to be in Texas. Hunting season is still going and chasing redfish around the shallow bays or going offshore to get Kingfish or just taking dates "crabbin" under a bridge on a Friday night. The "Simple Life" as it should be, all based around surfing and living life well. The sunset is my favorite time of the day as the warm glow sets over the land evenly and the heat starts to give way to humidity and the wind air conditions the land. Texas did for me what any hometown should do , it taught me with the help of my friends and family to respect the land , ocean and creatures, land management, appreciate the smallest waves .... and just surfing.. You can take the boy outta Texas but ya can’t take the Texas outta the boy!
If it were more consistent i would have never left.....We had our own California version, just a little shittier waves.