There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Galveston was considering a ban on surfing at most locations where surfers now regularly congregate.
But thanks to an early 1980s grassroots organization called Surf Galveston, city leaders and local surfers were able to convince the powers-that-be to establish one of the most liberal surfing ordinances of any of the developed beach cities in the United States, says longtime local waterman Peter Davis, who is also chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol.
This history lesson is important because it seems that every year around this time, you can hear rumblings from local surfers who are upset because they’ve been asked to leave a location where surfing is currently off limits.
Davis says Galveston’s multi-use ordinance, which encompasses surfing, standup paddle boarding, kite surfing, etc., is pretty straightforward and is considered surfer-friendly when compared to the law in other beach cities.
During the summer months — from May 15 through Labor Day — surfing and the other boardsport derivatives are prohibited at East Beach Park, Stewart Beach, from 10th Street to 17th Street, from 21st Street to 25th Street, and from 53rd Street to 61st Street. These boardsports are also prohibited near the 61st Street and 91st Street fishing piers but are considered acceptable on the west side of 61st Street and both sides of 91st Street, so long as participants stay far enough away to avoid interfering with the fishing business taking place on both piers.
Outside of the summer months, surfers can catch waves at any location, except within 300 feet of either side of the T-heads of the 61st Street and 91st Street fishing piers.
Violations of the ordinance are a Class C misdemeanor and carry a fine of up to $500.
“I think lots of new surfers think this is some type of negotiation between surfers and the people who are fishing. It’s not,” says Davis. “The law is on the side of the people fishing and the businesses that make their money from them being able to fish.
“Most locals know the deal and just find a different spot or stay far away from the piers. But it only takes a few to ruin this lenient approach for all of us who love surfing those spots. Ultimately, we want everyone to be able to enjoy the beach and ocean no matter what sport they choose. There’s room for everyone out there.”
One more thing to mention: There’s also a leash law in Galveston.
If you’re surfing along any of the seawall beaches during the summer months, surfers are required to wear a leash. This ordinance is in place to ensure that the numerous swimmers who enjoy the warm Gulf waters don’t have to dodge flying surfboards when they’re frolicking in the waves.