Ride 'Em, Surferboy

As coastal Texans head inland to escape heavy weather, landlocked beach boys are catching waves and sitting on top of the world

He lights up when he talks about big wave riding. His muscles start to tense with excitement, making the jellyfish tattoo on his left arm dance.

"I'm out here in the water so much, I think I'm growing gills. Every free moment I have, I'm surfing. In the morning before I go to work, I'm surfing. In the evening when the work is done, I'm surfing. I surf at night sometimes, when you can't see anything, and it's real calm and mellow. Even on my lunch break, when the guys are chowing down or working out, I'm on the beach trying to get a few good rides in."

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Beryl managed to stir up the sea enough to make last Wednesday morning the ideal time to catch a wave, and surfers flocked to the beach like gulls. The wave tops were mostly between head and shoulder height, but there were some 6- to 8-footers as well. No one caught a barrel, but there were plenty of cutbacks and long rides to the beach. Traffic was high where the waves were the biggest, but no one argued. Every now and then, someone had a wave snaked out from under him by another surfer, but unlike Californians, who have been known to come to blows for such sins, these Texans were calm and forgiving.

"My bad," Walter said to a fellow rider when Walter inadvertently ran him over. Walter has a casual moral attitude and a perfect tan. From a distance, with his long, jet-black hair, he looks like a good-looking female with no shirt, until you see him up close with pierced nipples and tongue. He is the calm, Zen surfer in these parts and noticeably one of the only guys not built like a football player. Walter is always the first one at the beach, driving an old Dodge diesel. He surfs a hybrid, somewhere between long board, ideal for the cruising, and short board, used to rip it up. You can't negotiate angles on a hybrid like you can on a short board, but you can ride the nose. Walter rides the nose like a pro, hanging all 10 toes over the board's front tip. From the beach, it looks like he's flying five feet in front of the wave.

Even the people who have surfed with him for a long time don't know Walter's last name, and they don't bother to ask. He is the only Walter in these parts of consequence. He says he's "in between" jobs at the moment and instead passes his time on the beach. Originally from Argentina, he's been here five years. Why here? Texas women, waves, and occasional marijuana use--that's Walter's life.

"Dude, there's been some killer waves out here these last couple of days," he says. "When there's a storm, you hang around and surf until all the waves are cashed out."

"Fuck, yeah," echoes Mike, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. He looks like a nightmare when he catches a wave, a behemoth with all kinds of weird, red facial hair and several iron-cross tattoos. He and Walter are here almost every day, and while they welcome the company of the storm chasers who only show up for the big stuff, they ride without limits.

Walter is a genuinely good guy who looks like Anthony Kiedis, and Mike is probably nice also, but he's too scary-looking to talk to. They say that most of the time not many people surf South Padre waters, though windsurfers come down to take advantage of the calm water. Walter says he likes the crowds because he wants people to get involved with the sport locally. He surfs even when the waves are 2-footers, because he says he's drawn to the ocean--like Allen and Brooks and anyone else who's ever caught a wave and walked on water. The storm was a payoff for so many days and hours spent riding scratch waves. Walter squints as he paddles out into the deep, trying to block the direct rays hitting his face with his long black hair. This is Texas Gulf Coast surfing. The sun, rising in the east, is in your eyes as you paddle out, and at dusk, cowboys surf into the sunset.

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