The little red Datsun pickup truck wasn’t much to look at it. There was rust all over its fenders and it seemed the bed was a few deep potholes away from collapsing.

But that truck, driven like a demon by my friend Mark, was my ticket to a new world so far removed from team sports, teenage jobs and the boredom of growing up in a small town on the mainland.

It was the mid-80s, and I remember Mark was always running late. Before the age of cellphones and “Find My Friend” and texting, you just sat on the porch and waited for your ride to show. But my friends and I didn’t complain. Mark and his trusty little pickup were our ride to the Gulf. Besides, he was the only one who actually had a board that we could all share.

His Datsun could only fit one of us in the cab, so my other two friends and I would pile in the back, sitting around the dilapidated red longboard that hung out the tailgate. As the wind whipped through our hair, the anticipation of what we’d find upon our arrival in Galveston was almost as delicious as the reality.

But that reality — feeling the glide for the first time as we learned to surf on that behemoth — was electric. And the more we hung out at the beach, the more we wanted to.

Inevitably, each of us got our own boards over the next year or so and we started to find our way in the local lineups. We all looked up to the surfers who were shredding at the time — Brett Hopkins, Steve Rabelas, Bobby Morrow, Sonny Morales, JoJo Balusek, Albert Shannon and a host of others. We all wanted to surf like them, no matter how unrealistic that seemed at the time.

We had heard that on 37th Street there was a little surf shop in someone’s downstairs garage. We found James Fulbright in there, surrounded by surf gear that seemed to fill every square inch of the space. The smell of surf wax filled our senses as we walked into that shop. It was a surfer’s utopia, and we stopped in there on every trip to the island, as much to hear stories about travel as to make a purchase.

The magic of first experiences shape every surfer’s future and lights the spark that keeps us hunting for the next wave. For me, it all started with Mark and his red Datsun, the little jalopy that launched my imagination and made me forever crave what’s just around the next bend.


Surf alert

for the weekend

The waves were choppy and disorganized on Friday but had plenty of size. That trend is expected to continue over the weekend before a cool front swings through the region on Sunday at some point. A good-sized swell accompanied by offshore winds Sunday means surfers should stay tuned to the local surf cams to check on conditions. It could be good come Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of surf reports, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol’s Instagram account — — has taken to updating its story some mornings with a surf report video from along the Seawall. It’s accurate and typically updated before 8 a.m., so it’s a good resource when you’re checking conditions.

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

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