Surfers spend a significant portion of our lives staring at the surface of water.

We look for currents, pay attention to the tides and are giddy with anticipation when all the elements blend and a solid swell is groomed clean by offshore winds. But most surfers in Texas don’t think much about what’s lurking beneath them.

In fact, we try to push thoughts of larger fish from our minds, better to not know that hammerheads, bulls, blacktips and other shark varieties are swimming among us every time we paddle out.

In reality, sharks aren’t really much of a concern for most of us. But other hazards should be. Take, for instance, a photo Billy “BillyBlues” Hill posted on his website this week. It was shot at one of Galveston’s most crowded surf spots — the 91st Street Fishing Pier.

The photo, taken recently on an extreme low tide, shows one of the pier’s giant old pilings covered in barnacles and sticking precariously out of the water, a hazard that’s always there but that usually goes unnoticed because it’s underwater.

The piling is a remnant of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ike more than a decade ago, a mostly hidden scar that we usually don’t give much thought until a photo reminds us of the devastation wrought by Galveston’s last big storm.

If you’re a surfer and you frequent the pier, however, it would be wise to give that piling a wide berth. There have been a few reports of surfers snagging their fins — and their bodies — on the protrusion as they paddled over the top of it. You can see a photo of it on Hill’s website (about halfway down the page) at

This isn’t the first time wave-riders have dodged dangerous debris just under the surface. When the old Flagship Hotel was being torn down to make way for the Pleasure Pier, there was all manner of glass, rebar and other detritus that found its way into the water, despite the nets that crews had installed on the pier to catch the stuff.

For years afterward, surfers were getting cut on the debris that had lodged itself onto the sandbars just under the surface. Nowadays, thankfully, that rubble seems to be gone or buried, covered by layers of sediment built up over several years.

And then there’s the rock groins that produce some of the best surf along our seawall beachfront. Most of us are familiar with the nooks and crannies of the jetties at 37th Street and 61st Street or the pieces of groin that are in the water at other locations where granite meets Gulf.

That familiarity only comes with experience and the hard-won understanding that it’s wise to pay as much attention to what’s under the water as what’s happening on the surface.

Many of us have the scars to prove this point.

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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