Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Search For Waves: A Travelogue

It had simply been too long. More than two months, and the last time had hardly qualified. It was so unfulfilling, that day in early July at the Rockaways in New York.

I had dreamed about it. I'd looked at photos and watched videos. I'd talked to my dad and brother about it; they only made me feel worse because they were getting it all the time. I needed to get back in the saddle.

I needed to go surfing.

Forecasts had called for some howling winds on the Gulf courtesy of Hurricane Karl, which would be sending pulses toward the Texas coastline. I decided I needed to be there to greet them.

After a late workday on Friday, I raced home, grabbed my board (only a 5'10" fish, would have preferred a longboard), sleeping bag, threw a few extra clothes in a backpack and headed south on 288. An hour later, I cleared the bridge over the canal and descended into Surfside Beach, which, according to a sign, was voted "Best Gulf Coast Beach Town." By whom? I don't know. Don't care. Don't even know if I buy it. Doesn't matter. I was there. And I could drive on the beach. Amazing.

I pulled past the unmanned pay booth and got my first sight of the water: Victory at Sea. Whitewater as far down the coast as my eye could see. Fortunately, it's what I expected. I was more concerned with my race against nightfall. And whether or not there were sharks in the Gulf and whether they, like their California cousins, treated dusk as feeding time. Again, didn't matter to me. I was here.

Pulled my board out of my bag, and Damn! it wasn't even waxed. Sign of my waveless times. Thin layer of basecoat applied, followed by a bit thicker layer of warm water wax and I was set. Though mid-September and around 7pm, only a pair of trunks would be necessary.

I did the stingray shuffle out until I was waist-deep and hopped on my board. A few paddles and I already had a goofy smile. Just to be coasting across the water, duck-diving under waves, feeling the ocean beneath me, smelling the saltwater and surf wax was enough to make the hour-long commute and 20-minute session worthwhile. At that moment, I didn't even care if I caught a single wave.

Deciding to make a trip of it, I went into the small town and found the one business that had more than three cars parked out front. Castaways Bar & Grill and it was karaoke night – score! Cheap beers, fried shrimp, interesting choice of clothing, husky locals welcoming me to the neighborhood and some halfway decent singing followed. I got out before it got too weird.

Slept in the car on a dark sidestreet, with hopes of an early morning session. Dealt with mosquitos, a midnight downpour through an open sunroof and constantly waking thinking some unhappy, burly local was shining a flashlight in my face.

The morning was worth the sleepless night. Beautiful sunrise, though over continued stormy seas. Paddled out with some of the locals, finding the occasional short ride on a unexpected wedge, popping out from amongst the chaos. Had to avoid a pair of houses sitting out in the waterline, abandoned and dilapidated after erosion had set in.

Stopped in for breakfast, just in time for gale-force winds and a brutal downpour that made it impossible to see out the windows of the restaurant. I was a little concerned because the restaurant was up on stilts and the place was shaking. No one else seemed to notice.

After another short surf, made the drive from Surfside to Galveston, after hearing that the conditions were cleaner over that way. "My buddy says it's tubing over near the pass," a guy told Bingo (seriously, that was the guy's name), over at the Bingo Surfboards shop.

It absolutely was not. But it was scenic drive through mostly nature preserves. Upon arriving in Galveston, and seeing that the black clouds had swung my way, I decided I'd had enough of the rain, the stormy seas and the film that was caking my skin.

I never did figure out if that was just business as usual when it comes to chasing storm surf on the Gulf. Maybe I was there too early or too late. Or maybe the Gulf just isn't meant for surfing. Eh, it'll do for now.

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