The Waves Are Free

The Waves Are Free

Hang ten at The Texas Surf Museum

By Zack Grossenbacher

Growing up in Lago Vista, a Texas town tucked into a bend of the Colorado River just northwest of Austin, Gavin Snider never surfed. The closest he got was taking part in watersports on Lake Travis. So, when he went off to college in Corpus Christi and was looking for a part-time job, it may seem odd that he landed a gig at the Texas Surf Museum.  

If you’re surprised that there is enough surfing in Texas to warrant a museum, you’re not alone. But the Museum stands testament to the long and surprising history of the sport and community of surfing. “They say everything's bigger in Texas. When it comes to surfing, it is the opposite. Our waves are small,” Snider said, but according to him, there is more in common than in contrast. “The community is the same as in California or Mexico. A surf shop in Texas and California are the same.”

The Museum was founded in 2005 by Brad Lomax, largely based on the collection of surfing memorabilia collected by Texas surf icon Pat Magee. Magee, who helped establish the surf scene in the state, is both an aficionado and fixture of the sport’s history in the area. He founded and ran the eponymous Pat Magee’s Surf Shop in Port Aransas. The surf shop drew a crowd from all over the country. The sign out front read, “T-shirts, Trunks, Bikinis.” Below that was the image of the soles of two bare feet next to the words “Hang ten.”

When Magee retired from the shop in 2005, the collection of artifacts he’d amassed was substantial. “Pat never threw anything away,” said Snider. “There was stuff stored under beds or in storage sheds—wherever he could.” Lomax convinced Magee to sell his collection, and the Museum was in business.

The most recent exhibit the Museum hosted was loaned by the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, California. It was called “China Beach: Surfers, the Vietnam War, and the Healing Power of Wave-riding.” The exhibit focused on the surfing community during the war, which was centered in and around Da Nang, Vietnam. The sport was a way for young GIs to relax and build community during their tours, and many soldiers brought surfing home with them.

When the exhibit was shipped from California to Texas, it was, according the Snider, “a blessing.” But, he said, “There was nothing about Texas. We needed to ‘Texify it.’ ” So, the Corpus Christi Museum reached out to the veteran community in the area. Working with the USO, they printed a copy of the dog tag of every Texan who died in Vietnam. 

At the opening of the ceremony, volunteers read, one by one, the names of all 3,414 casualties. The dog tags hung in solemn rows on black paneling. The memorial was called, “Waves of Honor.” “Families would come see the memorial and find names of relatives they didn’t know they had,” Snider said. Now that it has left the Corpus Christi Museum, museum administrators are looking for a new home. It is to be a travelling exhibit.

The new Pat Magee exhibit will take up the majority of the space in the museum. It will feature the majority of his collection. There is a unique twist though. “Normally when you come into the museum,” said Snider, “you enter through a gift shop. There’s T-shirts and posters. But this time there will be things on sale all over.” As they are perusing the Museum—it will be arranged in part like a surf shop—museum-goers will find one-of-a-kind items with price stickers on them. These items are for sale. “It was time for these things to flourish in other peoples’ possessions [we decided],” Snider said.

Also on sale will be the original Pat Magee T-shirt. Magee hasn’t produced the shirt in years. He still hand-delivers them to the Museum. It has an iconic design that is still in high demand. “The second we put them back in stock, and put it on social media, our phone was ringing off the hook.” 

Proceeds from the sales will go to support the Museum’s work, which includes a large amount of community outreach. In partnership with the local group, Youth Odyssey, Inc., the Museum holds surf camps with local kids. They also have surf lessons for the families of veterans.

As with everything, the last year has proposed problems. The Museum has remained open after a brief shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Heightened sanitation measures have been implemented. After the renovations are finished, the new Pat Magee exhibit will open. As always, the Museum is free to enter, though they do accept donations. “Just like the waves,” Snider said, “the museum is free.”