If the word "Texas" conjures images in your mind of dusty cowboy boots, shootouts, pickup trucks and barbecue plates as big as your head, chances are you've learned everything you think you know about one of America's largest states by watching spaghetti westerns and Walker, Texas Ranger.And you'd be dead right: you really can find all of these things in Texas. But they say everything's bigger in Texas, and, pardner, that sure does go for its surprises, too.
Possibly the last place you'd expect to find quality surfing, the southern and eastern coasts of the state are bordered by the warm, shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
And while it may never kick up monster surf, or even world-class barrels, there's still grande fun to be had here - if you know what to look for.
From the Northeast coast right down to the southern shores, here are the Lone Star States' best surf spots:
South of Galveston
While Galveston might be a more accessible place to try to surf along the Texas Gulf Coast, its extremely long continental shelf and shallow waters make the surf there inconsistent and fairly often mushy. Travel south of here, though, and conditions start to improve:
An uncrowded sandy bottom break which holds its shape best on chest-to-head high waves. Faster moving than Galveston, with deeper water and a more fun ride, you stand a fair chance of getting tubed, even if you have to hunch for it. Fun, but rippy, with lefts and rights depending on swell.
For many from Houston and nearby Austin, Surfside is the one of the most reachable and dependable breaks. Lots of different waves here, most of which can handle big swell, and really turn on in storms. The jetties are long, creating solid, deepwater peelers, and you can jump right off of them to paddle to the line. When the winds are blowing from the E-NE, the breaks are cleaner than those found further north. Good for long and short boards. Find friendly locals and board rental by asking around.
When the swell gets big (and too rough) south of Surfside, Quintana becomes the place to paddle out. Clean and compact when it's on, it offers up consistent, speedy sandbar waves with both lefts and rights which maintain integrity when quite big. Fun rides for all levels, but can be crumbly without a solid swell.
A great break; some would say the Texan classic. There are four main waves at Gorda, with good-shaped, consistent lefts and long rights breaking over a sandy bottom; working in lots of conditions, with plenty of power and fast rides. Ocean wave purists might remain unimpressed, but for Gulf surfing, this spot is one of the tops. Look out for buoys and in-water hazards, along with rips and the occasional shark.
Every Texan surfer (and many from elsewhere) agree: South Padre takes the top prize in the Texas surf spot competition. The continental shelf drops steeply offshore, creating the kind of waves not typically seen in the shallow Gulf. Five spots stand out here for consistency, power, and size, but South Padre has plenty of lesser-known breaks, too, so get out there and explore.
Swells from the north get some of Texas' best long lefts, with meaty consistency and great glassiness. Barreling waves are common here, even on smaller days, and the lineup is relaxed and friendly. When the really big swells roll in, the jetties produce little-seen monster waves which draw surf crowds from all over the coast. Watch out for sharks.
Possibly the best spot on the Texas coast, the waves breaking to the north of the jetty produce clean, fast barrels inside and get dependably big on almost any swell direction, and particularly when the wind is heading in from westerly directions. Long and short boarders alike are catered for here. Some of the biggest, cleanest surf in the state.
A remote spot (read: 4WD essential and you'll probably be camping) with a curved jetty shielding the beach, allowing a long, peeling right-hander to do its thing. Can be beastly on swells from the East and South. Mansfield has a wild feel; it's unlikely you'll see anyone else down there, depending on the season or day of the week, so bring supplies and enjoy the solitude.
Horace Caldwell Pier
An amiable crowd and consistent break make this surf spot a regional favorite. Waves breaking off the left of the pier are typically faster and more shapely, and while not the biggest waves, their peakiness makes for fun rides when the tide is heading out. Surfers of all experience levels welcome.
Bob Hall Pier
A super fun spot, Bob Hall has fast little barrels peeling off the pier over a sandy bottom, breaking on the beach. Good for short or fun boards, mid-sizes, lefts and rights.
A 10-minute ferry ride from Aransas Pass takes you to San José Island/Port Aransas (affectionately known as St. Joe's). When the wind kicks up from the southeast here, the surf is the stuff of Texan legend. However, ease of access, jellyfish (Portuguese man o'wars have been spotted), and washed up detritus have all been sources of grievance from surfers past. If you're up to the challenges, paddle out across the channel at the Aransas Jetties when it's pumping at head height and make some memories. Bring bug spray.