Locals find fulfillment, peace and even careers on the waterways
Ashley Shriver moved to Galveston in 2003 to attend college and never left.
In her time here, Shriver has learned to surf, paddle board and recently has become interested in free diving.
Her interest in Jet Skis came during the time spent with her family at lakes outside of Fort Worth as a child.
“My love for being on a board is definitely one that has grown on me,” Shriver said. “My first surfing experience in 2003 was not good. It took years for me to try it again, and I kick myself every time for not getting out there sooner.”
Now, like thousands of residents on the upper Texas coast, she’s hooked on water sports. A common theme among such enthusiasts is they find not only excitement in their pursuits on the water, but also serenity and sometimes solace. It’s not unusual in these parts to meet people who have turned their love of the water into careers.
This time of year, the waterways are teeming with many forms of recreation.
“Being at the lake as a kid around boats, Jet Skis and tubes started my love of the water,” Shriver said. “Now, when I go home to visit my family, I tell them that I can’t spend more than five days away from the water.”
Marlo Landreth is a co-owner of SUP Gulf Coast, which rents stand-up paddle boards.
She initially moved to Galveston to help her family. Her mother lives on Tiki Island.
“After my dad passed away, I would spend time with my mom and come to the beach,” she said.
Reeling from the death of her father, Landreth turned to her love of the water to help cope with the grief.
“I grew up in Clear Lake around the water,” she said. “We often visited my grandpa’s house on Bolivar. My mom loves the beach and I grew up on the beach. I love being by the water.”
And so she turned to the water.
“I feel like when I get out on the water, I’m safe,” Landreth said. “That’s what I like. You don’t have to go out far before you’re surprised how quiet it is. A lot of people come down from Houston and didn’t know Galveston could be like that. I’m always happy about that.”
Stacy Holcomb and Tyson Vodochodsky are co-owners of Pinky’s Kayak Rental in El Lago.
Together, the duo rents paddleboards and kayaks and helps guide tours around Armand Bayou.
“I came out here all the time as a kid,” Holcomb said. “The lake raised me and I cannot believe I get to work here now.”
The owners hope that by taking people out and showing them the nature and beauty of the water, they can inspire others to become passionate about the natural world.
“You get to be an animal on the bayou, basically,” Vodochodsky said. “There are no walls — only the walls put up by yourself.”
Vodochodsky, who said he struggles with social anxiety, also swears by the healing power of being out in nature on the bayou.
“Coming out here, you’re surrounded by all sorts of stimuli,” Vodochodsky said. “This puts me in a relaxed state.”
And it’s not just the two owners who are affected by nature, but those who return from the kayak trips, Holcomb said.
“It really doesn’t matter what religion they are,” Holcomb said. “They come back and want to convert us. They find God out there.”
John Grisaffi, who is a member of the Houston Association of Sea Kayakers and leads tours out to Armand Bayou and other spots in the Clear Lake area, loves the experience of guiding others, he said.
“Paddling with a group, you can either be a part of the group, or you can go solo, it just depends on where you move your boat,” Grisaffi said. “The appeal of being in a group is some people are known and others are unknown and the conversation can get a little weighty at times. But then, if you need time for reflection, you can peel off and be by yourself.”
Grisaffi started kayaking in the late 1990s and got serious about it three years ago, he said.
He’s never regretted it, he said.
“In a sense, it’s a spiritual thing,” Grisaffi said. “Also, the camaraderie of it. It’s also a lesson in acceptance. We are all in this together and watch out for each other.”
Phil Midler, owner of Houston Kiteboarding, loves his store, which is tucked away in the Gulf community of Texas City.
He loves the opportunity to kiteboard off the Texas City Dike. He goes out almost every day, he said.
“This is a really teachable area,” Midler said. “Around the levee, it’s 2 miles of waist-deep water without a lot of beachgoers. Kiteboarding is outlawed at Miami Beach, because it just takes up a lot of room.”
When Midler moved to Texas in about 2005, he started a kiteboarding store in Kemah before eventually moving it to Texas City, deciding the location was best for promoting the sport.
“I first learned to kiteboard in Florida,” he said. “I didn’t want to kiteboard because I thought I had enough stuff and wanted to pare back my activities. But a buddy said he was going to go out for lessons and it just got in my soul.”
Midler is an avid outdoorsman and sportsman, but kiteboarding holds a special place in his heart.
“You’re connected to a thing in the sky,” he said. “There have been a number of situations where I pull up and it’s like an elevator ride straight up.”
Participating in water sports takes many different forms. But participants are connected by a shared love of the Texas Gulf Coast.
“Sitting out on the beach and seeing the sun over the water’s edge, you can’t help but feel blessed,” Shriver said.