The pay phone just outside the Santa Fe High School cafeteria was a common companion for me and my surfing friends in the late 1980s.

When the wind was blowing from the south and we thought there might be waves on offer in Galveston, we’d spend most of our lunch period at that phone, dialing and redialing praying for a ring instead of a busy signal.

Back then, the surf shops on the island had phone lines dedicated to answering machine recordings that would relay that morning’s conditions and offer a forecast on what we could expect if we made the short drive to the beach. This was well before webcams, online surf guides, social media and every forecasting tool available to surfers today.

Before the internet, heading to the beach to go surfing truly was a gamble.

And those answering machine surf reports were the link between a surfer stuck in class and the promise of riding waves after school let out for the day. It was that anticipation — the imaginings of the unknown — that partly created the magic of surfing in my youth.

No matter how detailed the descriptions of the waves were on the telephone reports from Surf Specialties or Sunrise Surf Shop, driving on 61st Street and cresting that one last climb up the seawall with a carload of your buddies was always an exhilarating experience. We called it the “moment of truth.” It was the split second when you knew whether the 20-mile drive from the mainland was worth it.

Usually it was. Sometimes we got skunked.

Nowadays, with a few clicks of a computer mouse or swipes on my smartphone, I can figure out the surf conditions in Galveston or what the waves look like on the other side of the world. It’s so easy, this impersonal, instant gratification surf report.

But I’m glad I had the chance to hear James or Corey tell me what their eyes saw all those years ago as they scoped the conditions along Seawall Boulevard. Their collective voices painted the pictures in my mind of the waves I’d be riding and lit the spark that led to many memorable days.

I can still remember the phone numbers to each of those reports, the digits inexplicably etched into my memory bank. But that vault must be full these days because, while I could dial those reports with ease, I can’t recall where I put the bar of surf wax I bought last week.


Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup

The Surfrider Foundation Galveston Chapter will hold an Adopt-A-Beach cleanup starting at 9 a.m. Sept. 23 on Bolivar Peninsula. The organization is asking cleanup volunteers to board the ferry at 8:30 a.m. for the trip to Bolivar. Participants will meet in the ferry landing parking lot in Port Bolivar before beginning cleanup duties. More information is available at

Hurricanes Katia, Irma deliver surf to Texas coast

While most of the region is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, surfers had a chance to take a break from the cleanup efforts to enjoy some quality surf delivered to the coast thanks to Hurricanes Katia and Irma.

Katia, which spun around in the southern Gulf of Mexico for a few days last week before making landfall in Mexico, sent the upper Texas coast decent waves last Saturday evening for a few hours. Destructive Irma, the powerful tempest that tore through the Caribbean on its way to creating widespread havoc in Florida, entered the Gulf long enough to send the upper coast quality surf on Monday and then lit up the beaches in Corpus Christi and South Padre Island on Tuesday.

Scott Ellwood captured drone footage of the crew surfing at Bob Hall Pier in Corpus Christi that has since gone viral. Michael Bronson Hilliard made the trek to South Padre Island where he reported catching epic surf this week.

Stephen Hadley is a longtime surfer who lives and works in Galveston. If you’ve got a suggestion for a surfing-related topic you’d like to see covered in this column, email

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