California and Hawaii have long been considered America’s unofficial capitals of surfing. But Texas also has a storied a surf culture, though few outside of the state know about it.
The first generation of surfers in Texas appeared in the 1950s and 1960s along the Gulf Coast, at the same time surfing was entering American culture through Southern California and Hawaii.
Though photographer Kenny Braun was too young for that first wave, he has been surfing the Texas coast since the 1970s and has watched it explode in the intervening decades.
For the past 15 years, Braun has carried around his camera to Texas’s best local surf spots to document the little known scene, which he says these days has “more surfers than Texas has real cowboys.”
Braun shared a number of photos from his time in the scene here, but you can check out the rest in his new book, “Surf Texas.”
The surf scene in Texas began in the late 1950s and early 1960s, just as it became a popular culture phenomenon. Movies like 'Gidget,' bands like the Beach Boys, and the founding of numerous surfing magazines in Southern California all contributed to the growth of the scene.
Braun started surfing in the 1970s, when his next door neighbour got a surfboard. Soon the two were venturing as far down the coast as their car would take them. He's been surfing ever since.
The main areas are in Galveston (one hour from Houston), Corpus Christi (about four hours from Houston), Port Aransas (four hours from Houston), and South Padre Island (six hours from Houston).
Braun says that while the Gulf of Mexico will never be mistaken for the Pacific or the Atlantic, it can still produce large, surf-worthy waves.
Unfortunately, to get those waves, Texas surfers have to endure long stretches of flat or poor waves until the good ones come along.
The finicky nature of Gulf means that many Texas surfers become amateur meteorologists, figuring out what weather patterns produce what types of waves.
The best waves are caused by hurricanes and other large storms. Cold fronts during the winter also produce good surfing waves.
Braun says the waves after a storm are a short 'surfing nirvana' that last one or two days. Surfers from all over Texas jump at the chance to surf the 15 to 20 foot waves.
According to Braun, there are often dolphins in the water swimming alongside the surfers. He says that he didn't plan to get this shot, but was 'photobombed' by the dolphin.
Waves in Coastal Bend break on sandbars, as opposed to reefs or rocks like in many surfing areas in California and Hawaii.
Sandbars accumulate near piers and jetties, producing more consistent waves. Because of this, Texas is one of the few places to have constructed manmade structures for the sole purpose of facilitating surfing waves. A pier in Corpus Christi was built for that purpose.
Some surfers in Texas ride the waves of oil tankers, primarily in Galveston Bay. According to Braun, an oil tanker will produce a shoulder-high waves that can be ridden for 20 minutes, whereas the average ocean wave ride is 20 seconds.
One of the most surprising things about the surf scene in Texas, says Braun, is how many Texans don't know about it. 'Some Texans don't even know there are beaches in Texas,' says Braun. Actually, Texas has around 367 miles of surfable coastline.
The Texas surfing scene has gotten even bigger in the last 10 years, according to Braun. Year-round surf camps and surfing competitions have popped up in towns along the Texas coast.
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