So You Think You Have It Bad?

by Stab May 12, 2020 4 min read

Ed. note: The following was submitted by Cobey Clemshire, a surfer living on the Gulf Coast of Texas. We thought that the perpetually underwhelming surf in his region (and his inversely proportionate stoke levels) might offer some perspective on how good most of us have it, especially during the Big Cough.

Muted buzz from an alarm set the night before; whines from a hungry dog. Stumbling across the Saltillo tiles from south of the Rio Grande, the morning begins. Steam rises from an old kettle and water slowly transforms into a dark brew. The aroma of the fresh ground coffee fills the air. Open the door for the dogs and the familiar feel of a brisk, onshore breeze greets me. Cap the thermos, grab a wetsuit, and head to the garage. Staring back at me is a quiver chock-full of small wave craft from nose-riders to a fish. The single fin gets strapped atop a sandy SUV, twin fin in the trunk. I eye the thruster collecting dust at the end of the rack; maybe someday soon.  

A short drive in the dark across the windswept island, over the boat channel taking fisherman out in hunt of bull reds. Pavement turns to gravel and gravel to sand compacted by a rusty grader. No parking lots will be found here. I drive to the edge of the high tide line created sometime in the night. Headlights illuminate the whitecaps as the sun rises from its resting place beneath the sea. Abandoned offshore oil rigs dot the horizon along with a tanker coming in from distant shores. This is dawn patrol on the coast of Texas. 

Slide the single fin off the roof and slip into a 3/2; one last sip of coffee. Stare at the empty lineup looking for anything resembling a rideable peak. The onshore breeze has things disorganized, but as is life. Reach for a sandy bar of wax in the back and run it down the length of the board. The smell of coconut from the wax reminds me of the doldrums of summer.  

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Days on end spent driving endlessly on this stretch of beach in search of a ridable wave. Hot water and sand provide no escape from the summer heat. Jellyfish dot the lineup like oscillating mines from wars past. Sea lice swarms scare even the most hardened surfers from the water. But the heat of summer also brings a nervous excitement to the Gulf Coast. We watch the NOAA site for a mid-Atlantic blip.  Hurricane season gives us hope for tropical depressions to skirt the coast of Mexico, bringing waves to these placid waters. Sometimes we score a few days of head high lines; other times we are not so lucky. Harvey, Ike, and Rita are names spoken with reverence around these parts. This coastline has seen its share of devastation and despair in recent years. 

This year was different, and winter is welcomed on the third coast. Reprieve from a hot, humid, and flat August. No September sessions were filmed here. The end of November brings a quiet close to another Hurricane season. Tropical storms did not grace our shores this year, no swells from the Caribbean. We are left waiting for better days when winter blows in. 

The beach is spotted with trucks; some with longboards hanging out the back. Others filled with poles and tackle. Dawn brings all watermen together in the coastal bend. It’s a long paddle under the lines of the fisherman scattered along the jetty out to the lineup.  An older crowd sits out the back on longboards from decades passed.  Most everyday boards resemble something under the feet of John John in other breaks; here in Texas they start at 8’6”.  This is a different kind of surfer; low expectations and high stoke. If it’s ridable, you can bet we will be there. 

I cut my teeth on the myriad of Southern California breaks while attending dental school. Catching my first wave under a pastel sky at the Santa Ana river jetties as the sun sank behind Catalina. Countless days spent at 54th and 56th streets in Newport Beach gave me a different kind of education, but that’s a story for another time. I was spoiled surfing the perfect points and beach breaks from Santa Barbara down to Trestles during my time in California. Crystal clear water, glassy faces, and swell periods in the double digits. None of that prepared me for life as a surfer in the Lone Star State.

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The glare of the morning sun is darkened only by a peak. A few paddles from cold, stiff arms glide the board down the face. Eyeing a short wall down the line, my feet shuffle from a hurried cross-step into a cheater five and back again. The shoulder disappears as I cut back towards casting lines on the jetty, connecting to the inside sandbar. Another short walk down the sticky bumps of wax ends the wave. I make my way back under the fishing lines towards the warming sun to do it all over again. 

This is a typical winter morning on the Gulf Coast of Texas. With the right frame of mind, the coastal bend usually has something to surf. Being a surfer in Texas requires only a beach permit and a good attitude. A constant, heavy onshore breeze and short period wind swells are the norm. A long continental shelf slows most significant swells before they reach the oil-rich coast. While surfers in California scoff at the thought of paddling out in an onshore wind, we welcome it. Wind equals waves and anything under 30 mph is fair game. 

They say, “Ain’t no surf in Texas”, but “they” haven’t seen a January day with a north wind. With cooler temperatures comes the cold fronts from up north.  Magic happens when the wind switches to an offshore flow. Sandbars scattered on the wind-tattered shores slowly translate into long, glassy lines with feathering lips. The site looks like something from a sepia-toned Bruce Brown film. We don’t mind wind-chapped cheeks or the dirty brown water. When conditions coalesce, we brave the cold water with fifty of our closest friends in search of that one wave. A ride that gives us something to hold on to until the next front graces our shores.

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