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Finding Faith on a Longboard

Surfing-in-Texas

Sage Webb is a freelancer living on the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s not a world-class destination for surfing, but when she sets out into the water on her board, she taps into something bigger than she is.

Galveston doesn’t offer the best surfing. The waters on the Texas Gulf Coast here fall far short of waters that give rise to worn-thin descriptions like “gin clear” and turquoise. The Gulf here is brown. Not even “cinnamon” or “mocha.” It’s just brown.

On one side, the island looks out on tankers lined up to get into one of America’s 10 busiest ports. On the other side, the bay side, the island gazes over oil rigs in for repairs and cruise ships awaiting people ready for buffets and shore excursions. But what the island does have is mana, as the Hawaiians put it: supernatural energy. And that’s what paddling out into chilly brown water offers — a chance to touch that mana, that power.

We’re in the south, but even the Texas Gulf Coast gets cold. While summers mean triple digits and sticky, molten-amber humidity, this time of year brings a slight chill and rain (for this former Michigander, though, it’ll never qualify as more than a “slight chill”). It even drops down below freezing on occasion.

So paddling out into the Gulf can be a little unappetizing for someone whose blood has thinned too quickly and too much since moving south. But once I zip into that wetsuit and steel myself to hop on that board, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to lay on eight feet of foam and fiberglass and feel that salt chewing into my lips, to leave my glasses and flip-flops in the sand, and strike out toward a horizon of oil tankers with a squint caused by terrible nearsightedness and seawater in my eyes.

Lying out there on a board, I feel small. I feel blissfully unimportant and lost. Everything — all those social, professional, familial “obligations” — drops away and it’s just brown water and dusty blue sky and the mana . . . God’s mana. It’s a good feeling.

In the summer, the water gets warm. The nights are warm and the stars are close enough to just about touch. And the mosquitoes come out — hungry. For those summer nights, I don’t paddle into the Gulf. Rather, I paddle a stand-up board into Galveston Bay, barefooted but in jeans, daring myself to slip and fall off (I haven’t, which is good because, of course, swimming in jeans is never fun). Every three strokes or so, I have to pause and swat at the mosquitoes. But again, it’s worth it — so very worth it.

The blood suckers will chew the tops of my feet apart, and if I’m near one of the bayous, I’ll wonder about the alligators I see when I go for morning walks over the wood planks that allow people to fish. But mostly I watch the flares over the chemical companies burn holes in the black sky and the glowing cranes of the port load cargo onto ships bound past where I surf, and I take in that mana.

The colors of the refineries paint the shoreline into a sort of glittering Sistine Chapel, and overhead I can just about see That Finger reaching out — to Adam… to the bay… to me.

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