Parents build bonds, pass on love of surfing to kids
It’s just after dawn on a golden summer morning and Zach and Stephen Hadley have already waxed the top of their longboards, donned rash guards and sunscreen, and paddled out by Galveston’s 37th Street jetty.
The surf is mellow, clean and well-formed, with a good, localized wind swell. Not the Pacific, but not bad.
Before long they are up.
There’s a moment of sun-soaked stillness in the warm, blue surf, just before the boards lift and start to glide over the Gulf’s glassy surface with all the force of nature beneath their feet.
“That is exhilaration, pure joy and freedom,” Stephen Hadley said. “It’s even better when I share it with my son.”
Sharing waves is a bond that keeps the father-son duo stoked and smiling.
“Surfing gets in your blood and your psyche,” Zach, 15, said.
It’s clear he’s caught the surfing bug. And, for his father, who works at the University of Texas Medical Branch, it feels like his life is coming full circle.
Stephen Hadley, 45, began surfing when he was Zach’s age, making the short trip from Santa Fe to Galveston with friends who could drive.
“Whether the waves are good or bad, we always seem to have a great time,” he said. “I’ve always rooted for my friends when we were sharing waves, but there’s a deeper bond with Zach. I want him to succeed, not just in surfing but in everything in life.”
Surfing inspires passion in most of its practitioners, but when families surf together, it seems to create a powerful bond.
At least once a week, even more over the summer break, Mary Wise and her husband, Peter, both teachers at Friendswood High School, load up their dark blue Toyota Tacoma with surfboards, art supplies, beach chairs, shovels and a picnic, and set a course with their three children for an all-day family adventure at a Galveston beach.
If the surf is good, they’ll be catching waves with their three children. Hobie, 5, already is a sure-footed surfer, and Lana, 4, is learning to surf in tandem with her dad. Baby Sepp recently caught his first wave on a board with his dad.
The Wise family spontaneously ticks off a lengthy list of what they like to do at the beach. But, if the waves are decent, surfing is the main attraction.
“The joy of surfing is the same no matter how old you are,” said Peter Wise, who taught Mary to surf years ago when they were friends in high school. “You feel the power of nature, the strength of your body, the rush of the wave — it’s a meditation.”
They never had to sell the idea of surfing to their children.
“They saw us do it and they wanted to do it, too,” Peter Wise said.
The little ones can’t get to the car fast enough when their parents call a beach day.
Wise, who has surfed in Nicaragua, Mexico, California and other surf destinations, is Zen about surfing in Galveston. He accepts whatever it is.
“Some days, there are 1- or 2-foot brown waves, and other days, it is so beautiful, it takes your breath away,” he said. “You don’t have to have world-class surf to love and appreciate the culture of surfing.”
That often-repeated truism that “if you learn to surf in Galveston, you can surf anywhere,” has some truth to it.
It’s a perfect place to teach his children to surf, Wise said. There are small, easy waves, no crazy reefs to run around and no dangerous creatures.
Teaching the kids is fun for the couple.
“We wait for a good, playful day, and then we ride the surfboard on our tummies,” Peter Wise said. “They feel the whoosh and pretty soon, they are saying: ‘Daddy, I want to stand up.’ I pop up behind them to help keep their balance. They get the feeling of it and they can do it.”
Teaching an older child is different, although it’s still also experiential. Surfing requires building strength, doing it over and over, and learning which waves to catch and why those waves are better than others.
“Most beginners spend lots of time catching waves that have already broken, so they’re riding the whitewater rather than the actual open face of a wave,” Stephen Hadley said. “That’s fine when you’re starting, but it makes it difficult to actually go “down-the-line” on the face of a wave just ahead of the curl where it breaks. That’s where the power is and that’s where you want to try to stay, just ahead of the curl.”
Because Zach is old enough to surf with his own friends, Stephen Hadley also spends time talking about how to be safe.
It’s best to watch the water for a time before you go out so you can take stock of wind direction, the pull of the current and where the waves are breaking, he said.
Saltwater is the cure for almost anything, especially stress, Mary Wise said.
After all, what could be better than toes in warm sand, the thundering rush of the rolling surf and a far-off horizon that seems to melt the sea and sky together in different shades of blue?
There’s a certain bliss when the Gulf breeze leaves the taste of salt on your lips.
The beach is nature’s playground, and it doesn’t require any fancy additions, she said.
Sometimes, the family surfs in town; sometimes on the island’s West End. Sometimes, there’s no surf, so they shake out seaweed to investigate sea life, search for shells, build sand castles, do art projects, jump over waves, paddleboard, play chase or swim.
“After it’s dark, we chase ghost crabs with a flashlight and then it’s time to go home,” Mary Wise said. “By then, the kids are 100 percent exhausted, but they are happy.”