Surfing in cold water provides clarity and reflection.

How else could I explain why I was thinking about exploration and the way the emergence of artificial waves across the globe represents the end of an era?

Between finding a few nuggets in the fog at the Pleasure Pier recently — fully adorned in wetsuit, hood, gloves and booties to ward off the 51-degree chill — my mind wandered to trips I’d taken throughout my life, all in pursuit of finding that perfect wave.

As a teenager and again as a college student, I hopped on aging, rickety buses in Nuevo Laredo to cross Mexico’s interior and landed on different stretches of Pacific Coast sand. Usually, there were gems waiting at the end of the line. Sometimes, there weren’t.

A few years later, when my budget would allow, there were trips to Central America, driving through jungles thick with monkeys and crossing swollen rivers, all for the promise of peeling perfection around the next bend. In between these “down south” forays, numerous missions to our West Coast helped to sate the appetite, finding beauty from Canada to the Baja Peninsula.

But looking back, the magic and mystique of these trips was the adventure itself, not just the ruler-edged surf breaking with machine-like precision on picturesque points. It was the struggle, the sacrifices made, that planted the memory of why what was found at the end of the road was so glorious.

There were hours spent stuck in a Monterrey bus station not knowing when or how we’d get to Guadalajara. Days of rain and sickly surf waiting for the next swell. Broken-down vehicles in far-away, isolated locales, the feeling that you were trapped as the world spun without you.

Tribulations made these trips. In my storehouse of memories, there are countless beautiful waves undulating in my mind. But I remember — and feel intensely—the difficulty my friends and I faced in finding these beauties.

And so — in between duck-dives in the frigid Gulf — I couldn’t help but think that the youngest generation of surfers, now in their infancies, will inherit a world where the perfect wave is but a car ride away, as easy as hopping on the freeway in one big U.S. city and finding nirvana in the next.

The incredible advancements in wave-pool technologies over the last half-decade have made the promise of perfect surf breaking in the middle of the Heartland a reality. Kelly Slater’s wave pool, surrounded by cow pastures and nearly 200 miles inland of the Pacific in a California valley, is the genesis of this transformation.

Everyone who has ridden his man-made wave loves it. The speed, power and flow and the promise of as many to ride as your heart desires is certainly intoxicating. Many have called it addicting.

But in the rush to be the purveyors of perfection, are surfers creating a commoditized, sanitized version of the lifestyle that has come with so much heartache and hard-won riches? When every wave is perfect, how do we appreciate the days that are less than along our natural shores?

These uneasy, existential questions keep me awake at night. I firmly believe that adventure and exploration make us surfers, and I’m having a difficult time reconciling this new technology with that conviction.

Perhaps, time will tell what ultimately comes of this artificiality. In the meantime, I’ll catch another cold-water crumbler and keep a wary eye on the future.


The Galveston Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation will hold its monthly meeting on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at MOD Coffeehouse, 2126 Postoffice St. For more information, visit

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

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