What exactly creates these waves?
The waves are created by passing oil tankers and container ships, which travel inland for 25-30 miles, up the Houston ship channel. The waves, which are caused by these huge ships displacing massive amounts of water, break in certain shoaling areas that run parallel to the shipping channel, typically during peak low tide and during the summer months when there is very little wind.
How long have you been surfing these waves?I have been surfing the tanker wakes with two friends, John Benson and Peter Davis for the past 8 years. We have yet to see another surfer (except the ones that have been our guests), and we have many stories to share about our tanker surfing adventures. The feeling of riding one of these waves for two or three miles, alone, miles from land, and inland in the bay, is indescribable and my best surfing memories from being a surfer for the past 25 years are from tanker surfing.
Is there any danger in surfing the wakes of passing oil tankers?
Yes, there are dangers of these wakes swamping your boat and/or your boat becoming grounded on one of the numerous shallow shoals in the surfing areas. For the surfer, the dangers are getting too close to the ships and getting pulled towards them in the strong currents caused by the ship’s engine and the displaced water. Another danger would be to get separated from the chase boat. With the average ride being a mile and some being two to three miles, if there is more than one rider, and one surfer rides much farther than another, it’s easy to get separated and sometimes difficult to spot the lone surfer, waiting to be picked up! I cannot emphasize enough about having a very good boatman. The dangers of tanker surfing sound very similar to the ones that tidal bore surfers encounter. Watch out for the wake, keep tabs on all the surfers, and stay a proper distance away from the ships! The wave itself is a blast to ride and is mellow. The ultimate longboard wave!
Is there a 'best time' to surf these waves?
The only time to surf these waves is when there is no wind, and during low tide. The shoals are in too deep of water during high tide and any wind in the bay totally ruins it. It also helps to have some ships pass by!
Do you consider it to be a legitimate wave?
I consider it to be not only a legitimate wave, but also a very challenging wave. You can get very long rides, once you learn to read the wave properly. Many times, it will stop breaking completely, and you have to find that perfect pocket of energy to get thru certain sections, riding just an unbroken swell. After riding the same wave for miles, you start to feel every nuance of the bottom contour, the wave breaking characteristics…everything. It’s a feeling you won’t soon forget, especially if you get the right ship and the right water conditions.
Did the visiting pros consider it a legitimate wave?
All the visiting surfers who have had the opportunity to ride the tanker waves have had a blast. They all consider it to be what it is---an unusual event, with it’s own rewards and it’s own set of challenges. Sam George lost his board. Max McDonald got the longest ride (4.5 nautical miles). Gary Linden and Tim Bessell caught it on a really fun day. Ryan Engle, Daize Shane and Belen Connelly caught super long, styling rides, and I got the chance to share a long one with legendary surfer, Mike Hynson. That, I will never forget, and is another story entirely! Ask Jon Steele…Recently, Jimmy Buffett came and we shared a tanker wave together, and current female longboard champion, Jennifer Smith came with the Roxy crew and trained on the tanker waves just a week before winning the championships!
What naturally breaking wave would you compare it to?
There is nothing out there like it. It has a slight resemblance to Matachen Bay, in San Blas, Mexico, where there, the wave breaks for close to a mile. Another spot that it compares to would be Canoes, in Hawaii, or some similar break in Waikiki. It reminds me of watching the old Gidget movies, where they inject some guy sporting a palm frond hat, smoking a cigar and riding straight ahead in a full Duke pose!
What do you see as the future of this type of surfing?
Hey man, around here, we will ride anything that resembles a wave. I see more people dialing into it. I would hope that anyone who lives near a shipping lane or channel will go on a recon mission. There are probably spots like ours breaking right now, all over the world. You just have to open your mind…you will be surprised what you might find in your own back yard. When I found it, I liked to shit a brick! Here, they are re-dredging the channel to accommodate larger ships! In one place, they are piling up the dredge material and making an island for a bird habitat. We are thinking mini-Kirra!
Is there a Maverick's or Waimea of wake surfing, like some storied giant freighter or something?
Yes, there are certain named ships that frequent our ship channel that separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s all I am willing to say!