Category Archives: Rivers & Bayous

G -Town Brown: Flagship beach on Seawall by Jed Foronda

37th St. and Seawall
Galveston, TX

April 2004–The warm sun peeks through the heavy blanket of clouds, as the cold sea water creeps steadily along the shore. Rays of light reflect off a dull looking hotel and a small bait shop sit on top of one of many piers scattered along the seawall. A few old men begin fishing early in the morning. These drab dilapidated landmarks are what are encountered on a little stretch of sand and surf located on seawall and Flagship. The beach at this area lies at the feet of the ancient Flagship Hotel. The Flagship Hotel is a rundown lodging that sits above the water on the T head fishing pier. It is raised above the water along with the seawall. The seawall is a seventeen foot high dam that protects the city from major hurricanes and flooding. (Lienhard) The hotel is suspended one thousand feet over the water with a spectacular view of the gulf. The hotel looks like it will collapse and crumble in the water at any moment. Many who have stayed at the Flagship find it to be one of the most horrid places to stay. The Flagship cannot compare to the many new growing tourist attractions scattered around Galveston . It sits across the street from a neighborhood park and a local convenient store. The beach is known to most as “Flagship” due to the long standing hotel from where it gets its name.

My friends and I heard about Flagship when we first started surfing. At first it was intimidating, with its faster waves and additional surfers. But now it is like a surf home away from home. Everyone there is pretty laid back from the young and old to the short boarders to the longboarders.

Whenever the surf starts to build, a couple of friends and I wake up early in the morning to make the journey to Galveston rain or shine. I call Eric and Chris to wake up and get ready to surf.

“Eric, wake up due it’s eight o’clock we gotta go.” I said with a half sleepy tone. “The waves are kickin about three to four feet clean.”

“Ok. (yawn in the phone) let me call Chris to come over.” Eric says.

Eric and I started surfing together for about a year and now we are both hooked. We have another friend Chris who wanted to start surfing so we told him to come along.

I am ready to roll whether if it’s after class on Friday or early mornings on the weekend. I read the weather repot hoping that a storm in Louisiana will produce clean surf for the upper Texas coast. (Doc) I watch the weather report hoping for a hurricane warning or some type of weather disruption that will create surf conditions. My mom always worries that there will be a hurricane, tornado, or any natural disaster known to man every time I go out to surf a few sessions. She finds surfing dangerous yet, gives support to my hobby.

I check the most recent surf cam on a website and head on out. The winter months stacked with cold fronts produce some of the most consistent waves on the Gulf Coast.(Doggett) I grab a quick breakfast if any and take an hour long drive to get to my destination. I venture out at the break of dawn half asleep trying to reach the beach hours before anyone arrives. I specifically wander to the Flagship I order to avoid the crowd of families, tourists, and non surfers. I pass by as local surf shop to pick up some last minute essentials and checkout the overpriced surfboards.

“Hey man I need to buy some wax. Anybody got a dollar?” Eric says.

I am tempted to buy something but refrain from doing so. I gradually roll up to the favorite surf spot of many and scour the street for parking. Parallel parking is an essential tool for survival if you want to go to the beach along the seawall. I carefully progress trying not to hit pedestrians running back and forth across the street. I drive up and down the seawall like a hawk looking for a spot to park. I make my illegal U turn and slide into the perfect space avoiding the no parking tow zone. I take advantage of the free parking until the city of Galveston begins to charge for parking on the seawall. (Viven) The parking is tight, and the traffic is fast. The traffic is almost as fast as the bikers, skateboarders, and small gas powered vehicles that zoom by with disregard to unaware pedestrians. Cops stroll up and down the seawall waiting for somebody to break the law.

“Yo, we’re here! Check out the break!” as I point out to the ocean with excitement. “We have to wake Chris up; he fell asleep on the ride over.”

I suit up in my wetsuit and grab my surfboard as I wait for my friends to get their gear and head down toward the sand. I wax the last parts of my board and head for the stairs.

As I descend the concrete stairway, my feet come into contact with hard packed sand. It is cool to the touch. The seawall is painted with many like a mural depicting marine life and other aspects of the ocean. Seagulls swarm like flies to those who wish to feed them. The beach is littered with all types of trash from beer bottles to candy wrappers. The beach provides many uses to all. Each person has his or her unique leisure pursuit on the beach. Flagship is frequented by sunbathers as a tanning salon, abused as a giant ashtray for smokers, and defiled like a litter box by disrespectful pet owners. On a good day the girls are decent and the waves are decent, what more could I want? There is just enough pollution to keep that city feel and the right amount of sand and ocean to make it a concrete paradise.

As I survey the ocean the unpredictable tide curls left and right, eventually rolling towardthe sands. Dirty and cold. It is perfect. During the summer months it is dirty and hot. Not so perfect. The summer is the worst season for Texas surf. (Doc) The main attraction is the G Town brown or otherwise known as the murky Galveston waves. The waves reach monstrous heights over head to flat as a lake in a matter of minutes. The choppy conditions make it even more challenging with the erratic movement of water. Timing and location come into play when trying to catch Galveston waves. These waves crash the man made rock piers where bystanders are cautioned from traveling on at their own risk. I walk down the slippery rock pier looking for the best way to steer clear of unwanted waves. I start my way into the water through the shoreline. The colors and shapes of the many sea shells are magnificent until they stab my feet. I first pass through the gauntlet scattered seashells and other objects as I enter the water. The water is icy, grimy, and brown. The water possesses a muddy sight and should not be consumed. I try not to swallow this brown concoction with great difficulty. My friends and I come into the water receiving a wake up call from the frigid ocean temperatures. The water reaches temperatures in the low fifties. My whole body becomes numb for the first few minutes within contact of the water. Few yet brave souls rush into the frosty water with just a pair of swim trunks. I walk by the no swimming sign with disregard. During the winter there are no lifeguards on duty. So the no swimming sign is the only warning you get. The sun quickly makes its presence for a few minutes, bringing little warmth. It then disappears back into the clouds. I paddle out along the man made rock pier trying to avoid being pushed back by large waves while at the same time trying not to get smashed into jagged rocks. I slide off my board and walk chest deep in choppy conditions. An occasional fish jumps in and out of the water in search for freedom from the cold nasty sea. My feet are met with an unsuspecting unpleasant surprise. Small jagged shells and rocks cover the sea floor where the tide deposits them. The excruciating pain distracts me for a second until I hop back on top of my board and struggle to paddle farther away from shore.

Wave after wave, surfer after surfer passes me by as I wait patiently in the foamy dark sea. I sit in the line up with other restless surfers waiting for the next best swell. As the perfect wave approaches I take my position and fly by others as ride it to the shoreline. I glimmer with glory in the eight seconds of which the ride lasts. I mount the board. Quick to my feet, I dash down the line up with the wind flowing through my hair. The nose of my board bulldozes through the water as I steadily hold my ride. Suddenly, I encounter a surfer in front of my path and make a sharp left turn in order to avoid a collision. This abrupt move slows my ride as I soon begin to run out of waves. The thrill of flying on my feet is a high. I start the process over again by paddling out and waiting for the next wave. Ride after ride the tide begins to die down. The sky lights up with a plethora of colors like an artist’s palette. I call it a day when the sun goes down and it is pitch black in the water. I few hardcore surfers stay a while to catch a few more sets. Gradually people flock to their cars and return from where they came. I surf for hours on end without taking a break and head on home feeling dirty, tired, and hungry.

Flagship might not have the greatest surf in the world or even in the state. It may not have the pristine waters of the west coast or the bleach white sands of Hawaii , but Flagship at Galveston is one of the closest things to a beach within fifty miles. I do not know if it is something in the water, but I keep on coming back. Thinking about it with all the junk floating in the sea, it probably is something in the water. So for all those who think surfing in Galveston is not possible, think again. It is not pretty sight, but for a few hours with the right conditions it can be paradise.

Map


Links

Surf Cam – Texas

Channel Islands Surfboards

City of Galveston

Surfline

Seawall

Dirty Water, Dirty Past: Buffalo Bayou by Dennis Bray

Behind the Brewery Tap Pub
717 Franklin Street Houston, Texas

January 2004–There’s a side of Houston that not many people know about, or even want to. Its history is as rich, if not more rich than any other place in Houston. The place has been around for as long as the Romulus and Remus of Houston, the Allens, settled here and has changed its contour due to the large growth of the Houston metropolitan area. Buffalo Bayou has been a natural trademark of Houston for as long as anyone can remember. Not far from where the bayou crosses Louisiana Street and not far from where I-45 passes over the bayou, there’s an English style pub by the name of “The Brewery Tap.” The bar is directly on the “water” and is often filled with the unpleasant smell of old trash, bums, and urine that are carried up by the bayou breeze.

If you leave out the back door towards the bayou, you’re taking a chance with your life. Only after hopping a fence, squeezing through a locked gate, and walking along a boardwalk with an incline of 65-degrees, you reach the bayou. With the stench of piss and ragweed in your nose and the thought of falling into the most mortifying water on earth at the forefront of your mind, keep walking. It’s worth it. You’ll go under three or four more bridges with similar circumstances as the first until you reach Houston’s answer to San Antonio’s “River Walk.”

The two worlds collide at a cheap green plastic fence. Hop the fence and you’ve returned to reality and a life of security. No more transients and their headquarters, just cool, lush grass and the comfort of a main street. After rejoining civilization, sit and relax in the shade of one of the many trees that have been transplanted near the water with the intention of beautifying the park. You can tell that they’re young so don’t climb on them. When you’re finished relaxing, stroll on down to the water. Don’t get too close, though, there isn’t a retention wall and the water is the same here as it was 50 yards up stream. It probably has the same infectious diseases that the other water did. But at least now you have beautiful surroundings with the grass and trees and all.

When you think that you’ve had enough serenity for one day, start up the red and beige brick path toward Louisiana Street. Look to the left and you’ll see a series of plaques giving brief details of the history of the bayou and the park. The plaques highlight things like the role the bayou played in the Civil War to how it affected slavery. The history of the bayou is unknown to virtually all over who drove on the many bridges that cover it. It is known that no real Civil War battles took place in the city of Houston. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a major strongpoint for the Confederate army, and a major target for the Union soldiers. Houston was a lot closer to battle than anyone thinks. And actually would have been a major battleground had a few steamboats and Irishmen not run their course in history.

In 1861 the Civil War had officially begun in Texas when the Confederate Constitution was ratified, making The Lone Star State: The Lone Star State that wants slaves. Two different units, the Here We Are Guards and the Bayou Guards began training day in, day out with expectations and hopes that they might get some fighting time. By the end of April, 1861 over 500 citizens of Houston were enlisted with the various units all around the growing city. Their jobs titles included: soldiers, doctors, cooks, recruiters, and of course, bugle boys. They were trained and willing for a “good fight.”

The Northerners took notice to the amount of goods being shipped out the Gulf of Mexico and placed a Naval blockade on Galveston. This severely hindered the bayou’s constant traffic of steamboats and their ability to ship goods. Cotton farmers were warned not to ship any more cotton because if Galveston fell, Houston might be next. And if it was, the Union soldiers would show no mercy in burning every bit of cotton they found. This was a direct example of the slash and burn technique exhibited by North and South alike. The citizens of Houston, however, reacted with an imagination never previously exhibited. They began to create alternative uses for many common goods. For instance, instead of coffee, they used dried okra. And instead of lamp oil and stationary, they used castor oil and wrapping paper.

With people making changes, buildings soon followed as some of Houston then downtown buildings transformed into valuable utilities. The incomplete courthouse was converted into a factory for gun cartridges and many other buildings were converted into hospitals and other useful community necessities. Despite the immense changes to the city, Houstonians were still determined to fight and win a war. On Christmas Day, 1862, two cotton ships, The Neptune and Bayou City, were taking on cotton as usual. One thing stood out to onlookers though. The ships had also been equipped with a sharp device meant to ram other ships. The Galveston-bound ship had also stationed troop of sharpshooters behind the bales of cotton. The Houstonians had waited long enough and now thought that it was time for them to fight back.

It took the two ships some time to get to the bay of Galveston, and on New Years Eve, the small assault began. News reached Houston that The Neptune had been sunk but that the Bayou City had sunk one Union ship and had run another aground. The two small ships from Buffalo Bayou had made a difference in the outcome of a battle. The Bayou City returned with over 350 Union prisoners to a returning party made up of many other ships that were anchored in the bayou at the time. The prisoners were then walked through downtown to a warehouse converted prison on what is today the University of Houston. The Texans had done it. They had defended themselves well and protected their city. Through the next few years, many key battles were fought all over the southern United States, although no more were fought in Houston. The Northern troops made on last attempt at taking Houston in September of 1863. Businessman Dick Dowling led a group of 46 Irish-Americans to defend the onslaught of four gunboats and 4000 troops with just six guns. The Battle of Sabine pass was more like the savior of Sabine Pass. Had the Southern troops not fought so hard, the fall of Houston would have been inevitable.

Not long after the successful defending of Houston, the Confederate armies officially fell to Union soldiers on April 9, 1965 with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Through the events at Buffalo Bayou and the Civil War, America was shaped. It was events like the Civil War that helped to define who we as Americans are and what we believe in.

In this instance, the spirit of America is a bayou and the surrounding park is its citizens. No matter what happens to the park or people, the spirit of America and the bayou are unaffected. Both are packed with symbolism as though the events of the past have a direct effect on the events of the present. If I hadn’t walked through some of the most disgusting circumstances imaginable, then I would have never gained appreciation for the River Walk. Just like if we never had a civil war, we would have never been able to truly value human life as much as we do today. Who would have known that a small bayou in Houston, Texas would be part in the shaping of America and the ideals that we believe in today? When we look at America today, we don’t think of the factors that shaped America as a whole. We just think of the Civil War, not what made the Civil War. This park is a great example of how to get to the good things after going through the bad things. Even though one would have to risk life and limb to get to the park, it’s definitely worth the walk and the effort. If you have a free afternoon with sunshine and not a cloud in the sky, I definitely suggest making your way down to the park near the Louisiana Street Bridge. It will allow you appreciate the good things of today and learn about the mistakes of the past. But go the long way: over the fence and bums and under the bridges. You’ll gain a much deeper understanding of the infrastructure of downtown Houston. The experiences that you’ll gain will be lasting memories. You can see the direction the city of Houston is trying to go in and also how through history, some things never change. They just continue to flow and let everything grow and expand around them. The landmarks remained unchanged and untouched. But it’s the landmarks that touch and change people through experiences that transpire. This particular area of downtown gives a sense of serenity in the present, and the sense of pride and purpose of our past.

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