Surfers: Houston's endless waves

GALVESTON - In the Houston's Galveston Bay there is a wave so long, so perfect, so ridable it's been featured in top surfing publications and attracts visitors from all over the world.

On a normal day at a normal beach, surfers are lucky to snag a 5 to 10 second ride over a distance of football field or less. While those swells can travel thousands of miles across the ocean before crashing ashore, they only break for the a blink of an eye. The waves in Galveston Bay are different.

These waves don't originate from the open ocean, but from the Bay itself. Giant, fully loaded ships depart Houston for the Gulf of Mexico at full speed and displace a huge amount of water due to their  massive volume, sending a 3 to 5 foot wall of water several miles from the ship. These waves can propagate for miles. This means surfers can ride for over 30 minutes on a single wave! If a typical surfing wave lasts about 10 seconds, these waves last 180 times longer! In jogging terms, if a 5K race (3.1 mile run) represents a typical breaking wave, this Bay wave is the equivalent to running ten marathons! Surfers who ride these waves say they love it but their muscles get a bit sore.

Important safety info:

  • You need a support boat! Never -- absolutely never, ever, ever, ever try to paddle out from shore. There is simply too much high-speed boat traffic and crawling out to your surf spot, you're literally invisible to speeding vessels between swells. Also, tidal currents leading in and out of the Bay are extremely strong in some areas and even on surf board you can be pulled out. Also, wake can push you into the rocks along dikes and jetties if you're not strong enough.
  • The boat is also there to bring you back to shore. Rides can last for several miles into open waters!
  • Finally, large ships are extremely dangerous to be around when they're underway. They create currents that can literally suck you into under the bow or the props if you get too close, leading to a pretty horrible end. Proper tanker surfing safely happens a half mile to a mile from the actual ship. Best to keep your distance and wait the several minutes after the ship passes to grab its wave.
  • Goes without saying: Coast Guard advises if you're the captain of a boat, follow all maritime laws to keep a safe distance from other vessels, never obstruct or place your surfers inside of active travel shipping lane, and while keeping a safe distance from those in the water, stay close enough to get to them quickly should they need your assistance.

Galveston does offer several charter companies that accommodate surfers for this adventure. If interested, Google it.

I hope to try this one day soon! In other news, SURF'S UP in Galveston along the beach this weekend! -Brooks

A special thanks to Bill Hill of for these awesome pictures!

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