About Tanker Surf Charters

  • Tanker Surf Charters is owned and operated by Captain James Fulbright out of Galveston, Texas. Capt. Fulbright holds a Merchant Mariners OUPV license with a Commercial Towing Endorsement. Capt. Fulbright’s boat is a 23′ Gulf Coast Vari-Side named “Surfbored” and is powered by a 2014, 200 Horse- 4 stroke Yamaha VMAX outboard motor, has hydralic steering, 62 gallon fuel tank, dual batteries with a Perco switch, bimini top and is equipped with all USCG approved gear. Captain Fulbright is the individual responsible for introducing Texas tanker surfing to the world, first in Dana Brown’s 2003 surf documentary, Step Into Liquid, and then in his own film production, Miles To Surf, which won “Best Documentary – Subject Matter” at the International Surf Film Festival St. Jean De Luz in 2006.

    Tanker surfing is seasonal

    The summer season (June 1-September 1) is best suited for bay surfing, due to warm temperatures and light winds. Winter season (November 1-February 28) is too windy and usually very cold. Fall season (September 1-October 31) has good conditions unless a tropical system or hurricane is threatening. Spring months (March 1-May 31)) are fickle and it can be windy more often than not and planning around the wind can be problematic.

    Planning a tanker surfing excursion very far out in time can be tricky, due to the weather, especially if you are flying in from out of state/country. Our approach is this–we take reservations for two charter bookings per week. One booking is for a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday window. The other booking is for a Wednesday-Thursday-Friday window. One reason for this is to allow each group flexibility should bad weather, i.e wind and rain exist. Second, occasionally this can also allow a group to charter a second day if they so choose. An example is if a group has a successful charter on Monday and wants to go back again, they already have Tuesday reserved. Wednesdays are used when Monday and Tuesday were bad weather days for the first group, or for the first charter opportunity for the second group.

    Captain Fulbright surfing Cohiba Shoal

    Another important and uncontrollable factor is the shipping traffic. Even though we operate in the 3rd largest port in the country, and numerous ships come and go throughout the day and night, we have no control and little to no firsthand information pertaining to ship traffic. We have dealt with this issue since day 1 and it is the nature of the beast. Even the ship pilots themselves work with only a 2 hour notice to board and bring a vessel in or out of port. Waiting on ships, reading the types of ships, their draft, speed, hull designs and their locations are all part of the allure and the variables of tanker surfing. We have studied this aspect in great detail over the past 13 years and have a very high success rate. We have been skunked on occasion, but it is usually due to inclement weather and unfavorable tides more so than the lack of ship traffic.

    A tanker charter will strictly accommodate between 1-4 people, not including the Captain and a deckhand (if applicable), with no more than 2 people surfing at one time and a maximum of 3 surfboards on board (provided). No minors under the age of 16 will be allowed on board. No exceptions. The size of the chase boat, the number of people and surfboards onboard and the draft of the vessel in relation to the depth of the shoals are all critical elements when dropping off and picking up riders without running aground and when maneuvering around the deck.

    What you can expect riding tanker waves

    The majority of tanker surfing is done in open water, over submerged shoals, miles from any shoreline. Surfing tanker waves is usually practiced on longboards 9-10′ in length, due to the wave breaking characteristics on the majority of the shoals. The most important requirements in producing a ridable ship wave are the ship’s size, speed, design and draft, but both the bottom contours and water depth, as well as the tides, dictate whether or not the wave will break, or even appear for that matter. Riding a longboard will not only allow you to catch the wave, but also give you a better chance of staying on the swell when it passes over deeper water and stops breaking, sometimes for over a mile. Riding distances can be anywhere from 1/2 mile to 5 miles, depending on a multitude of factors mentioned above.

    Riding the tanker waves on a shortboard is possible in specific areas and from the right ship. The real challenge though lies in connecting the dots between water depth changes, the overall length of ride and the ability to catch waves created by smaller vessels. There are also small islands in the bay complex where the tanker wave will break along their sandy and/or rocky shoreline, and some of these waves, although shorter in length, can be fun to ride on a fish type shortboard. Having the right equipment equates to more fun and a much longer, leg cramping ride.

    A tanker surfing excursion usually starts well before dawn and lasts about 6 hours out on the water, as long as weather/water conditions don’t deteriorate. The boat is loaded with the day’s supplies and trailered to the launch ramp on the mainland…roughly a half hours drive. A final decision is then made as to whether or not conditions are favorable and safe. Once the final decision is made and the boat has been launched, we motor out to the ship channel and wait at a pre-determined location, which usually takes a half an hour or so. and we wait for the first ship. On a busy day, we may travel over 100 miles and burn 40-50 gallons of fuel, or more, following some ships the entire 30 mile length of the channel. When there is down time between ships, we spend that time eating, relaxing, wake surfing behind the chase boat and fishing (applicable licenses are required).

    Archie Kalepa waking and Wes Laine watching.