Oil Tanker Surfing
Massive oil tankers, which began traversing the Gulf of Mexico during the Texas Oil Boom in the early 1900s, have turned Galveston Bay into an unlikely surf break. The large ships create waves that can be a mile long, providing an unusually long ride for surfers. James Fulbright, one of the pioneers of so-called “tanker surfing,” brought attention to the phenomenon almost 20 years ago when he and his friends were features in Dana Brown’s surf film, Step into Liquid. Now, it has evolved into a thriving subculture. Photographer and surfer Kenny Braun, who has documented this community of surfers in his book Surf Texas, described the surprisingly ideal wave conditions in Slate:
"For tanker surfing, Galveston Bay is perfectly shaped geographically. Fully loaded oil tankers come steaming in at full speed and travel approximately 30 miles before entering the Houston Ship Channel. The ship’s wake produces a beautiful shoulder high wave that can be ridden for 20 minutes. The average ocean wave ride is 20 seconds.”
Tanker surfing, a sport that directly stems from the expansion of global fossil fuel production and trade, highlights the ways in which culture and communities are intimately tied with energy. In this case, the phenomenon is an inspiring example of how culture might evolve in surprising ways and disrupt the way we think about energy going forward.