When you think of Texas, thoughts of cowboys, horses, ranches, farms, tumbleweeds, oil, guns and BBQ probably creep into your head long before images of waves and surfing.
Yet, the second largest state in the U.S. is home to approximately 367 miles of coastline that runs adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, and surprisingly more Californians move to Texas than any other state in the country.
There’s a strong contingent of surfers in Texas that probably makes for more of a cult following than a mainstream gathering, but its presence is still there. South Padre Island has a legitimate surf shop, while Austin’s trendiness easily allows anyone with the surf lifestyle to fit right in.
You’re not going to find world-class surf in Texas, but waves are there to be had. Based off my own personal experience as a part-time resident in Texas, coupled with extensive online research, here are the five best places to surf in the Lone Star State.
South Padre Island
A destination known more for its spring break revelries, South Padre Island is the capital and epicenter of the Texas surf scene. With the exception of March and early April, when college students take over and rage endlessly, it’s a relaxed beach town with great restaurants and miles of coastline that produces consistent surf thanks in-large part to the continental shelf being close to shore.
The best waves are alongside the South Padre Island Jetties, which are located near the south end of town and produces gentle right-handers great for longboarding that holds up when a hurricane swell hits the region. The South Padre Island Jetties border the Brazos Santiago Pass.
On the other side of the waterway is Boca Chica, another beach break that is much more isolated due to the relative difficulty accessing the area. With a decent swell, Boca Chica pumps great peak waves that on rare occasions produces barrels.
The biggest downside to Boca Chica is that you have to leave South Padre Island and head back to the freeway south towards Mexico to get there. If you’re staying in South Padre Island, it’s many hours of driving added to your trip. You don’t really have to worry about crowds in South Padre Island though; head north and the city has miles upon miles of soft sand beaches and plenty of waves.
Be forewarned with the South Padre Island area: The U.S. Border Patrol has stations throughout the area, including on the drive back from Boca Chica. If you have any special herbs that may be legal in other states such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon, avoid garnering attention from the drug sniffing dogs that could net you some prison time and/or a hefty fine along with a potential criminal record.
This is for the ultimate adventurer because the only way to get to the Mansfield Jetty is to drive either 65 miles on the beach south from Port Aransas, or 30 miles north from South Padre Island, along the Padre Island National Seashore. If you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle, it is strongly not recommended to make this trip. If you have a boat, you could access the jetty from Port Mansfield.
If you do decide to go on this surf adventure, at the end of your long drive you’ll find the Mansfield Jetty, an incredibly isolated section of the U.S. coast that produces arguably the best waves in Texas.
The south side of the jetty blocks much of the wind that hits this region of the coast, and the shape of the cove produces great waves reminiscent of a point break. The waves here are the strongest in Texas and they hold a pretty good shape.
Matagorda is located near the cusp of where the Gulf of Mexico waters go from being clear and beautiful to murky, brown and all-out nasty. This is mostly due to an extraordinary amount of silt and runoff from the Mississippi River exiting near New Orleans with a coastal current taking waters in a southwest direction, and pollution.
Keep in mind this is Texas, where business interests trump nearly all concern for the environment. Chemical plants and oil refineries line the Texas coast, and Houston is the third largest shipping port in the U.S.
Matagorda produces strong waves thanks, in-large part, to a deep ocean floor ascending rapidly to the region’s sandbars, resulting in strong energy punching up and creating fast, powerful waves. Think of Blacks in San Diego; a similar beach break where the physics of the current forcing itself along the ocean floor topography results in bursts of wave energy producing significant power (only Blacks, naturally, is a far superior wave).
And since most of the Texas coastline (South Padre Island not included) is saddled with a wide continental shelf, heavy waves come few and far between. However, Matagorda is somewhat of an exception.
Matagorda is in the middle of nowhere and is located near where the Colorado River meets the Gulf of Mexico. It takes a strong commitment to surf there and it’s certainly a “local’s only” spot, since no one in their right mind who isn’t from Texas would travel the distance needed to surf there.
This long span of beach includes such infamous Texas surf beach breaks as the Quintana Jetty, the 61st Street Pier, and Octagon.
Texas is probably the only places in the world that has a surf break called “Assholes,” which is named for the surfers’ sentiments towards the homeowners in this part of Surfside Beach. The coastal town of Jamaica Beach is just north and also has some decent surf. You’re just down the coast from the fun and grittiness of Galveston (where usually the surf is mushy and the water quality is disgusting) and a short drive from there is Houston. This is probably the most frequented surf area in Texas due to its proximity to major metropolitan regions.
Galveston Shipping Channel
If you’ve seen the unofficial trifecta to Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer movies, Step Into Liquid (directed by Bruce’s son Dana who also directed Dust To Glory), you might recall a scene in the film where a group of surfers in Texas surf incredibly long waves in the Galveston Shipping Channel created by wakes from the super tankers that pass through.
While this isn’t exactly a typical way of catching waves, the rides are really long and they seem to be amazingly fun.
A company called Tanker Surf Charters offers full-day charter rides for those wanting to surf waves that go anywhere from a half-mile to five miles in length thanks to the super tankers who create the swell.
The price to go super tanker surfing is pretty steep: It will cost you anywhere from $175 to $700, depending on how many people want to surf at any given time, to charter a boat to tanker surf for an entire day. It’s probably the best waves to surf in Texas, though.
Honorable Mention: Port Aransas
I might get some flack for not including the Port Aransas area in this list, but super tanker surfing just seemed too good not to include among the best places to surf in Texas, even if it isn’t a natural way to produce waves.
And nearly every surf spot near Port Aransas seems to have annoying and significant hazards, ranging from strong currents, to jellyfish, to bugs, to crowds, to sharks, to wind, to, well, you should get the idea by now. There are some pretty good waves though to be had here.
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