Islanders find peace and fun in the turbulent Texas chop
When Galveston beaches reopened on May 1 after weeks of pandemic closures, Ellie Cherryhomes was at the water’s edge.
Cherryhomes, 23, hadn’t been back home in Galveston for long.
After wrapping up an internship in California in February, she made her way back to the island with the idea that if things got bad during the pandemic, it would be good to be around family.
When the island beaches reopened, Cherryhomes was there with her longboard for the first time in a month, finally allowed to go back into the water where she first learned to surf.
“When the beaches closed, it was a really strange feeling,” Cherryhomes said. “The ocean has always been a pretty big emotional release for me. If I need to be by myself or release energy, it just seems to understand me.”
Surfing has been part of island culture for decades. The sport reached its heyday in the 1960s, but the jetties and piers jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico have continued to amplify the waves that attract surfers day after day and year after year.
Galveston’s waves aren’t like those in California or Hawaii. The sets aren’t always consistent, the barrels aren’t regular. The waves are better outside the tourism season — in the spring and winter. By the time the heat sets in in June, the swells can disappear, unless a hurricane makes bigger waves to the Gulf of Mexico.
The local surf community is made up of diehard members, who either can’t leave or don’t want to leave their small, inclusive surf community.
The good days get the blood pumping, island surfers say.
“It’s the anticipation,” said Galveston resident Kris Hopkins. “In Texas, you don’t have waves every day, so you really have to be committed, and when you do get surf, take advantage of it. I still get that same excitement as when I was 12 years old.”
Hopkins, 37, comes from a surfing family. He, his father and brother were competition surfers, and recently his son, Kane, won a Texas state surfing championship for the 8-year-old age group.
“It’s definitely in our blood,” Hopkins said. “It’s really cool just to see him light up. When he gets a really good wave, I enjoy surfing more.”
Many Galveston surfers catch the bug young, and stick with it for years and years. Cherryhomes got her start at a surf camp in the water near the former Flagship Hotel where the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier now stands. She was 4 years old.
“I remember the board was yellow and being told not take the board perpendicular to the waves or else I’d get destroyed,” Cherryhomes said. “When I first did it, I just automatically really liked it.”
Islander Chase Redden, 17, first started surfing when he was 8 years old. He got involved after his mother took him to a surf camp on the island. Over the years, Redden fell away from the sport, before picking it up again alongside some of his high school friends, he said.
The camaraderie among Galveston surfers and friends is one of the reasons he keeps getting in the water, he said. An early morning text will come that the waves are decent, and Redden will be out there, he said.
The surf time is worth it, even if the Gulf is offering just some turbulent Texas chop.
“Being out there in the waves and the water, it’s an amazing feeling like no other,” Redden said. “It’s really peaceful.”