When the jury’s out and the waves are right, this judge heads to the Gulf
John Ellisor keeps a pair of swim trunks in his car.
Before presiding over the morning criminal docket, the county’s longest-serving judge has waded into the Gulf of Mexico to catch waves on his longboard. During his lunch break, Ellisor has left the courthouse to surf for half an hour before returning to the bench for a trial.
“When I got back, I was still drying off in time to see the jury,” he said.
In the judge’s chambers on the top floor of the Galveston County Justice Center, Ellisor nailed a surfboard mount. It holds a 1970s board he bought at Pat Magee’s Surf Shop, the former Port Aransas store owned by the Texas surfing legend. It’s a 7-foot-2-inch California Co. surfboard.
“I’ve ridden this on just about every beach in Texas — from Galveston down to Port Isabel and every beach in between,” he said.
His surfing hobby started with a skateboard he got in 1963 — Ellisor called it sidewalk surfing — and he bought a surfboard three years later. For the first few years, he surfed behind his parents’ boat on Lake Travis. In the spring of 1969, Ellisor caught his first Gulf wave at Mustang Island near Corpus Christi. Ellisor got up on his first try, and he’s been hooked ever since.
“The feeling of a wave pushing you along and sliding down it — there’s nothing like it,” he said. “Once you’ve got it in your blood, it’s hard to get it out.”
When Ellisor became an attorney, law began to intersect with surfing. A defendant who couldn’t cover legal expenses bartered a board. As payment for writing a will, he received a 9-foot-6-inch board with an epoxy foam core and wood veneer, which Ellisor uses more than any of the other five boards he owns.
Now Ellisor spends less time on the water and more time studying court briefs. But his judge’s chamber is decorated with surfing memorabilia: a picture of a surfer and scripture verse his mother framed; a blue wave souvenir; and a large poster of Duke Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimmer credited with popularizing the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing.
Above the closet holding his black judge’s robes, the board Ellisor bought as a teenager all those years ago sits mounted on the wall.
“It’s a stress reliever,” Ellisor said. “I find it very peaceful being out in the water in God’s creation. For a brief period of time, you can forget what’s going on.”