Tanker surfing been practiced in Texas for the last 50 years. In the ‘60s and ’70s, the sport occurred not in open water like today, but along the shorelines of two islands in Galveston Bay: Redfish Island and Atkinson Island. During this time, ships were less frequent and much smaller, but they still created waves. When dredging operations ultimately allowed for deeper draft vessels to travel in the channel, tanker surfing began growing. Today, container and tanker ships are much larger and more frequent, the channel is deeper and wider to accommodate even larger vessels, and the dredge material taken from widening and deepening the channel is being used to create more submerged shoals. Tanker waves now break both in open waters over the shoals that border the Ship Channel and along shorelines of some newly formed islands which has kept the practice popular.
Captain James Fulbright is credited for pioneering open water tanker surfing and was featured in the world-wide theatrical release, Step into Liquid. He has been surfing in Galveston since 1967 and has owned a surf shop in Galveston, Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties, since 1985. He also has hand crafted over 5,000 surfboards under numerous labels since 1988. James and his two partners have been on the CBS Evening News, ABC News, Fuel TV, NPR, Good Morning America, and ESPN Sports. The three were awarded the GERT Medal of Merit by Columbia Sportswear as “Pioneers of the Greater Outdoors.”