The waves aren’t the biggest or the best, but Galveston’s surfing scene has thrived for decades
Tasha Rivard’s eyes light up in her sun-tanned face when she talks about surfing.
“During those few seconds you ride, nothing else matters,” Rivard said. “Everything in your life is simplified.”
As a teenager on the New Hampshire coast, Rivard would stomp through snow in a wet suit to make it to the waves battering the shore. When Rivard’s family moved to Galveston from New England three years ago, the 26-year-old surfer sold her boards. Everyone knew there were no waves on the upper Texas Gulf Coast, Rivard said. She meant to stay only for a summer. But while the surf in Galveston is of a lesser scale than in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, as it tends to do for most people, grew on her.
“When conditions are right down here, you get plenty to make you happy,” Rivard said. “And the water temperatures are so much nicer than back north.”
Rivard has surfed in Queensland, Australia, Hawaii and Costa Rica. But the one thing Galveston has is the nicest people, she said. Everyone is welcome in the surf scene, she said.
“People are always happy to see you out on the water,” Rivard said. “As long as you contribute to the good vibe, you’re welcome.”
Rivard isn’t alone in her appreciation of local surf culture or enjoying what has long been a vibrant Texas surf scene.
When surfing as a sport hit the beaches across the world in the 1960s, Galveston teenagers begged their parents for longboards, the only boards available in the beginning, and made for the ocean.
“We had no wet suits, the boards had no leads, but we were good swimmers,” renowned Galveston-born surfer DeWayne Munoz said. Munoz and his friends would camp out on Texas beaches, light fires to keep warm, take off when someone knew of a competition and skip school a lot.
“It was like Woodstock,” said Munoz, whose favorite surf competition win included a free trip to Hawaii in the early 1970s. “There were no regulations back then. You just showed up.”
The Texas surf culture grew. But in the early years, surfing was considered a lazy person’s way of life, said islander Bobo Conde, whose living room is adorned with surfing trophies that include a win at the first “Nose-Riding and Hot-Dogging” contest held in Galveston.
In high school, teachers and quarterbacks would scoff at him for being a surfer, Conde said.
“You fought a stigma as a surfer back then,” Conde said. “People thought you were beach bums and would never achieve much. So, you stuck together with like-minded friends.”
Those like-minded friends founded the Treasure Isle Surf Club in the 1960s. The club had its first reunion last September.
Most attendees were in their sixties or seventies. Many still surfed. The reunion was named “Endless Summer.” Munoz and his friend, Jerry Wayne Shelton, whose father used to own the Sunrise Surf Shop in Galveston, were hosts of the reunion at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Galveston Beach.
The idea of a reunion came to Munoz and Shelton because of a movie their friend and surf companion of the 1960s, Lauryn LeClere, was making about the surfing culture on the upper Texas Gulf Coast. The movie, a documentary called “Broken Waves,” is still in production but should be finished by September this year, Munoz said.
The Endless Summer reunion was promoted on social media and more than 500 people signed up for the event. It became a fundraiser benefiting Galveston veterans and the movie “Broken Waves.”
“I saw friends at the reunion I hadn’t seen in 35 years,” Conde said.
Treasure Isle Surf Club has long since splintered into new clubs, with the original surfers’ children and grandchildren forming their own clubs.
Because of the event’s success, a second one is planned for Sept. 24, when the complete “Broken Waves” movie is scheduled to be shown. Cost of the tickets include a movie showing, dinner and a shirt. The profits will go to the Texas Surf Museum in Corpus Christi and the Texas chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which bills itself as a group dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches through an activist network.
Galveston, as a rule, has chunky, sluggish waves, Munoz said. But surfing conditions match the best in the world when a hurricane hits north of the island, much the way Katrina did in 2005. Under such conditions, Galveston gets the groundswell and offshore winds that are perfect, he said.
Munoz’s main fascination with the sport and the ocean are one many surfers share — the connection with nature, but in a foreign, strange habitat. And there’s the joy of staying fit, he said.
“Joggers don’t look like they’re having fun,” Munoz said. “But surfers do.”
Munoz now splits his time between Galveston and Oahu’s North Shore, one of the world’s major surf meccas.
Brian Jarvis, owner of C-Sick Surfin’ in Galveston, has surfed in Oahu, too. But Jarvis, who rents out boards from the back of his pickup and teaches lessons at the 43rd Street jetty, prefers Galveston as a teaching spot. The waves break over sandbars instead of reefs, he said.
“It’s a soft fall,” Jarvis said. “Everyone can learn to surf in Galveston.”
Jarvis hails from Myrtle Beach, S.C., and made Galveston his home base when he was a merchant seaman. C-Sick has 40 surfboards and 150 wet suits fitting all body types.
“Everyone surfs these days, or would like to learn,” Jarvis said.
Although surfing was a fringe pursuit when Jarvis was young, today’s surfers are doctors and lawyers along with blue-collar men and women, he said.
“It’s much like playing tennis,” Jarvis said. “It’s something most people can learn.”
Jarvis often starts people out on longboards, which are more forgiving. As students’ skils develop, they might go for shortboards, which give more speed, Jarvis said. Or, some might return to longboards because they allow for a longer ride.
But even in Galveston, dangers lurk.
“All surfers pull people out of the water sooner or later,” Jarvis said. “We look out for each other.”
Rip currents cause problems in Galveston, especially along the jetties. The rip currents also damage local surfing conditions because they diminish the breakwaters by eroding the sandbanks, Conde said.
The best seasons to surf the Texas coast are spring and fall, said William “Boog” Cram, who with Mike Dean, owns the Ohana Surf & Skate shop in Galveston. Cram began surfing Galveston in his high school days. But these days, he mostly skateboards. The two sports are closely related, and legend has it that skateboarding was invented by surfers looking to recreate the feeling on land on cold winter days.
Cram remembers tying two longboards to four aligned bicycles and rolling them to the beach with his friends. The boards would have been too heavy for kids to carry more than a few blocks. But it was worth it, Cram said.
“Being out there in the solitude and quiet, it’s a different world,” Cram said. “You can’t see the bottom and the sense of the unknown surrounding you is part of the attraction.”
Cram scanned the Gulf of Mexico from his shop window on the island’s seawall and said: “There may be no waves today. But a devout surfer will watch and monitor. There is great surf in Galveston. You just have to wait for it.”
Tiny van Travels
Tasha Rivard got the idea to convert a tiny van into a living space while traveling on a road trip in Australia. Rivard wanted to live small and simply, she said. She sought a van that would offer fuel economy and wasn’t too flashy. She settled on a white, 2010 Ford Transit Connect, which fits her and her lifestyle perfectly. Rivard, who lives in Galveston, is 5 feet tall. The van, at its widest point, is 5 feet 2 inches, allowing her to install a bed widthwise in the vehicle, which is about 4 feet 11 inches tall. Conveniently, a company that previously owned the van already had installed industrial shelving. She took the tiny van home in January and began the work to make it livable space. Rivard comfortably keeps a bed, clothes — including an array of bathing suits — in her van. She’s made it cozy with lights and a few personal items, including some stuffed animals. She has room for her surfboards and a skateboard. Read more about her and her van on her website, www.tinyvantravels.com.