As Galveston officials fretted about the approach of Tropical Storm Cindy Wednesday, the atmosphere on the Galveston beaches was decidedly different.
On Tuesday, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry issued a voluntary evacuation for the Bolivar Peninsula, which could be cut off from the mainland during heavy winds and rising tides. Workers in Galveston proper have also been bracing for the storm, clearing storm drains, preparing for high-water rescues and choosing locations for barriers should the sea water start to inundate the town.
Tides lashed against the Galveston Seawall in some places Wednesday afternoon, turning the beach into a churning mess of water. But with all of the people hanging out along the beaches, there was little sign anyone on the island was worried a tropical storm was approaching. Onlookers sat placidly in lawn chairs in ankle-deep water. Surfers rode epic, apparently dangerous waves.
Cameron Reese, 23, had come from Richmond, Texas, to enjoy the waves. A surfer, Reese considers hurricane season the best time for surfing in the Gulf of Mexico. He tries to catch Galveston storms whenever he can.
“You gotta get out here and get in it,” he said. “Everyone else runs. We come to the beach.”
The Houston Press spotted around five surfers — a small but not insignificant contingent of the people on the beach. Most of them stuck by a jetty near on 37th Street, riding waves that seemed to come perilously close to the jagged outcropping.
Asked about this apparent hazard, Reese insisted the jetty actually provided surfers with some protection. “You can paddle right down the edge of it,” he said. “It stops the waves for you.”
Surfers aside, few of the people who spoke to the Press had come specifically for Tropical Storm Cindy. Most were caught off guard by the sudden emergence of a storm on the Gulf Coast — but were determined not to let the bad weather affect their vacation plans.
Robert and Angie Vaughan sat in lawn chairs on what would have normally been a beach. Waves lapped at their feet. The Vaughans had come from Oklahoma to celebrate their 37th anniversary on Wednesday. Thirty-seven years ago Wednesday, they’d come here for their honeymoon.
The couple hadn’t planned on Cindy crashing their anniversary. But they weren’t about to cancel their plans and head back to Oklahoma, either. Despite the dark skies, they said they were having a good time.
“We’re not hurricane watchers,” Angie said. “But it’s kind of fun watching.”
Destiny Hill, from East Texas, had a similar experience. She’d come to Galveston with her mom and her four-year-old son, Hayden, to celebrate Hayden’s birthday. “All he wanted was the beach,” Destiny said, and she held Hayden’s hand and walked him along a jetty.
Like the Vaughans, Destiny was determined not to let Cindy ruin her son’s birthday plans. Besides, Hayden was having a good time, and that's what mattered.
“All we have up there is tornadoes,” Destiny said, speaking of her hometown in East Texas. “This is way prettier.”
The locals who spoke to the Houston Press were similarly unruffled. Bruce Howell, 62, was sitting on a bench near the Strand. A native Galvestonian, Howell is currently homeless — the result, he says, of a leg condition that makes it hard for him to work. But when asked if he was worried about the approaching storm, Howell said, “Of course not.”
Meteorologists, he noted, were predicting the eye of the storm would make landfall east. “Even if it made a direct hit, it wouldn’t be that bad,” he said nonchalantly.
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Galveston Strand, like the beaches, had its fair number of tourist holdouts. Sure, there could have been more people. But it was difficult to tell if that was because of the storm or simply because it was a weekday.
People on the Strand were doing all the usual Strand-y outings, munching on taffy or carrying beers along the street. In Galveston — the site of the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history — it seems it will take more than Tropical Storm Cindy before beachgoers really start to freak out.