Surfing column

Crowds watch a big wave surfing session at the Praia do Norte, or North beach, in Nazare, Portugal on Thursday.


While the upper Texas coast has been generally frozen for much of the week, keeping even the hardiest from attempting to catch a wave, the surfing world has been glued to big wave locations in Hawaii, Portugal and Northern California.

This past week, in particular, has produced some mind-boggling huge surf across the northern hemisphere, lighting up breaks that are dormant much of the time and filling social media feeds with photos and videos of heavy-wave chargers careening down mountainous ocean walls.

At Nazaré, Portugal, where steep, spectator-laden cliffs provide an amphitheater to gawk at the 80-foot to 100-foot behemoths steaming toward shore, there were several surfers taking turns being towed behind a personal watercraft into the massive bombs.

These are waves so powerful and fast, so beyond comprehension to us surfing mortals, that you need a personal watercraft to get up to speed to even catch them. Paddling into a wave for most people is out of the question. The Portugal wave has, on numerous occasions, produced some of the biggest surf ever ridden, and some were calling this week’s swell the biggest ever at the break.

Meanwhile, on Maui at Pe’ahi — better known as the big-wave spot Jaws — there were swarms of surfers crowding the lineup to try and catch the large swell detonating on the reef.

The crowd was so thick, it prompted one well-respected surfer to voice concerns about safety because so few of those vying for the massive walls had ventured to the break prepared with a crew that could rescue them in case of trouble. Instead, some hired photographers so they could showcase their exploits on social media.

“With 60 surfers, there were two hired safety guys and about 15 skis driving photographers,” Hawaiian Albee Layer posted on his Instagram feed. “This is absolutely unacceptable, and we need to find a way to fix it.”

Across the Pacific at Mavericks in Northern California, waves of more than 60 feet roared into Half Moon Bay on Thursday, prompting contest organizers to consider holding the World Surf League’s big-wave event at the location. However, because this particular swell was forecast to be too rough and unruly, the contest was postponed.

Still, there were a handful of surfers who braved the conditions and photos from the day show numerous unruly beasts storming through the lineup, most unridden.

To be sure, this week will be one to remember for fans of big-wave surfing. With a quite a bit of winter remaining — and the associated storms that create monster swells still to come — there’s likely to be more big water bravado taking place in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.


Speaking of cold, I can’t recall a time when the beach water temperature has been as frigid in Galveston as it is now, at least not in the nearly four decades I’ve been a surfer.

On Friday, Weather Underground was listing the water temperature at the Pleasure Pier at a crisp 44 degrees, a full 9 degrees lower than the average for this time of year.

It’s going to take several days of warm sunshine to get the water back in the territory where most upper Texas coast surfers can comfortably enjoy the waves. In the meantime, if you do decide to head out in the water, be prepared with a thick wetsuit, gloves, a hood and booties. Also, make sure you know the signs of hypothermia. Cold water exposure is no laughing matter.

Stephen Hadley is a longtime surfer who lives and works in Galveston. If you have an idea for this column, email him at

(2) comments

Kelly Naschke

Stephen, thanks for making the Saturday sports page relevant for me. I couldn’t care any less about high school basketball or Dunbar going to the East-West game, but I thoroughly enjoy your column. Maybe we will meet in the lineup some day.

Steve Fouga

Beautifully written, too.

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