Sunday, August 19, 2007

Supertanker surfing: or James Fulbright and his f-king large wake.


"Off of the Texas Gulf Coast there is a ship channel heading inland that spans about 30 or 40 miles -- from Galveston to Houston. The magic scenario I'm about to describe is extremely fickle, but listen: it's calm, hardly any wind, obviously no surf along the beach front, low tide (or at least out-going) and it's usually on a weekday. There is a fully loaded tanker coming in, without any barge or other traffic around to slow its speed -- the supertanker is allowed to travel about 13 knots in the channel with no traffic. Now, here's the big catch: the waves those supertankers produce only break in certain areas within that 30 miles or so, dictated by bottom contour, depth, etc. But they do break and, man, they're long.

By the way, it's not barge waves. Barges don't have a deep enough draft, enough cargo load, speed or proper hull design. It's the fully loaded supertankers that we seek.

Some time ago, after much reconnaissance on my part, I was able to find a couple of spots that were fairly consistent. Some other spots were rumored to have even better, bigger conditions than the few I had already charted. But this is a real hush-hush thing. Hardly any people even know where to go. And even I still get skunked all the time.

Nevertheless, I will share my first experience with you. The experience that caused me to go out and buy my own boat immediately.

A guy I know went fishing in that area all the time and told me how these small fishing boats would get swamped by these "rogue waves" caused by passing tankers. He said he remembered where he saw the waves breaking and asked if I would like to do a recon. I was about pissing in my pants when I said, "Yes." Well, a buddy of mine, the fisherman and I went out there to where he thought it was. We hung out, and lo and behold, saw a tanker coming. The fisherman told us to jump in and paddle out. He pointed in a certain direction, and then added, "Stay far enough away from the channel, or you will get sucked in." Sucked into the tanker engine, that is.

My buddy and I got into position, the huge f--ker passes, we wait and nothing happened. So, we paddled back to the boat with these shrimpers and other fishermen staring at us. I knew they were thinking, "Hey, you idiots, the beach is that way. You're in the bay, dumbshits!"

We felt about as big as your dick after a winter surf. Afterward, we followed the huge beast of a ship that had passed us, when, looking out of my binoculars, I spotted the backs of some waves breaking on the other side of the channel. We sped way ahead of the mother, jammed across to the other side and jumped in. My buddy and I paddled furiously to get into what hoped was the right spot. Surer than shit, here comes a wave. I can't f--kin' believe what I'm seeing. We both paddle for the thing and both of us catch it. Riding side by side, it looked like something out of a Gidget flick -- sporting longboards, but without the palm-frond hats and cigars. The wave was about stomach high and kind of rolling whitewater. It occasionally walled up, then backed off, and walled up again. My buddy and I were looking at each other and laughing our asses off.

The channel has buoys with the number of the buoy marked on each one. We rode that first wave for two channel markers, or about one-and-a-half miles. No bullshit. Here's the kicker, I've yet to accomplish it again, but it still gives me chills: we were sitting there on our boards, high-fives, snickering like we just got our first piece of ass, top of the world -- bizarre world, that is -- when we look back at our boat and can barely see it. F--k, I thought, we gotta paddle all the way back.

Just then, we both look at each other when the same thought crossed our minds --an outbound tanker was coming our way. This is not going to happen, I thought. The mother passed, we waited and sure enough -- on Elvis' grave -- we both caught its wave back the direction we came, riding it a little farther than the number one channel marker. We rode it long enough to see the poor slob we left on the boat, and he was dancing a jig on deck. True story.

It'll never happen again, probably, but a good first time. No, I didn't catch the biggest wave ever ridden at Makaha, or Phantoms, or some other name spot. But the thrill of that first day surfing the "supertanker waves" is about as good as it gets on the pure-stoke level. Like I said: it's fickle, a lot of conditions have to come together, but when they do, that wave, well, it's pretty f--kin' funny. -- James Fulbright"

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