Hurricane Rita, Surfing in Red Tide.

Thankfully, the red tide was mild and had only recently appeared. It wasn’t strong enough for a fish kill, at the time, but definetely worked it’s way into the sinuses after an hour. A larger problem , was that while this storm was brewing another seemingly endless summer of storm surf, the chance of Galveston taking a direct hit was sobering. Very few upper coast surfers were showing up for this swell. They were obviously busy moving their families from the path of this latest tropical monster. Things were quiet down here, except for the impact zone.

Shawn Cooksey, rail set and speeding toward a bottom turn.
Shawn Cooksey, rail set and speeding toward a bottom turn.

Thursday night, the still air was filled with the sound of bonecrushers rumbling toward shore. The hurricane was getting closer to us but had finally made a turn. It had been charging straight toward us for three days and even though the National Hurricane Center held strong on it making a turn toward Galveston, it took a lot of trust to believe that. Sure enough, the upper level steering winds took effect and the storm began it’s new track. Thse swell was already hitting all day thursday, and it would peak quickly, as they usually do, on friday. But when…exactly?

Friday morning starts shining on the horizon. Hurricane Rita has grown overnight into another chubasco on crack, and the people of Galveston have run to the hills. The winds are stiff from the NNW and not working with the waves out front. The air is hot and the red tide is loving it. A visit to Boca shows a much cleaner wave, but considerably smaller than the north side. It is breaking a few feet overhead, with an occasional long period set wave rolling in at DOH+. The wait for the sets is long, but eventually it starts getting shorter. Some photogs are working from the rocks, shooting Boca, and every fifteen minutes their small chunk of space gets smaller.

Unknown takes one on the head.

Around noon, the sets start to push into the channel and continue to increase in frequency. The outer rocks just disappear as each bump rolls in and pushes toward the bay. Once it gets into the cove, it hits the shallow bottom and jacks, heaving a thick lip to crash in the flats. As each wave gets bigger, the price of wiping out gets heavier. But even with a juicy wave grinding through the cove at almost DOH, somehow a few people still manage to drop in on each other. Pretty sketchy thing to do on a sizeable wave.

The remaining light of the day is filled with haze and mist. It’s almost like the red tide is starting to grow in the air. Breathing continues to get more difficult but the waves just keep coming in. The entire bottom of the cove is getting tickled and it stirs up a murky mess. It’s finally showing that there really is sand in just the right places because at this size all the sections of the wave are connecting. I shot one DOH set wave for the entire duration it broke clean and information from the camera shows 32 seconds between the first and last frame. Insane!

A bloody exit from the channel.

Sunset arrives and the day is over. The surf is still growing but the size will not be here by dawn the next day. Sometime during the night, the waves will peak at an unkown size and leave behind distinct markings in the parking lot from the surging water. It’ll still be almost head-high in the morning, but nothing like what we had just seen…

Rita, no where to go but inland.
Rita, no where to go but inland.