"If God meant for Texans to ski, he would have made bullshit white" is an anti-Texas bumper sticker that appeared in New Mexico and Colorado in the 1970s and 80s. You might think a similar derogatory sentiment could be said about Texans and surfing, but you'd be wrong. There are no mountains to ski on in the Lone Star State, but there is abundant coastline along the Gulf of Mexico—over 367 miles of it, to be exact. The Texas Gulf Coast is not Cape Cod or Malibu (nor does it want to be), but it does have a rugged beauty and charm all its own. And it has an enthusiastic and devoted surf culture that has not been fully documented until now.
Partner DJ Stout and lead designer Barrett Fry in Pentagram's Austin office have designed one of the first serious visual explorations of the Texas Gulf coast surf scene which begins hitting bookstores this week. Surf Texas, published by the University of Texas Press with a foreword by Stephen Harrigan, showcases the lovingly crafted, black-and-white images of Austin photographer Kenny Braun. An exhibition and book release party for Surf Texas, Braun's first monograph, will be held at the prestigious Stephen L. Clark Gallery in Austin this Saturday, March 22, from 6-9 PM.
Braun, who grew up surfing the Texas Gulf coast, has been documenting the landscape and culture of Texas beaches for over a decade.
"Because Kenny has been photographing the Texas surf scene on and off now for so long," says Stout, "and because he has a record of when he shot each picture, it gave us the idea to include a small tide chart with each photograph in the book. It's interesting to see the relative surf activity that corresponds with the day an image was taken. It's a unique device that graphically represents a die-hard surfer's obsession with waves."
The Pentagram team accessed the tide data from an international surf report called magicseaweed.com, which was more than willing to provide the information. The oversized coffee-table book is different in other ways as well. Braun's photographs are not the typical, high-octane color photographs taken with a long lens that populate most surfer magazines. The book includes action shots for sure but Braun's images of the Texas Gulf coast landscape and the people who make up its rag-tag surfing culture are quieter and decidedly more contemplative. They are ultimately about a place and a state of mind.
In his foreword, Harrigan says this about the rarefied Texas surfer:
"A sense of hope, an understanding of the need to be patient—that's the emotional heart of this book. The photographs that I find myself returning to the most are those of people staring out at the horizon with confidence and expectation. Perfect sets of waves are few and far between on the Texas coast, but Texas surfers know that and have made the necessary psychic adjustments. And, in observing them, Kenny Braun has the advantage of being one of them. He knows what they are looking for, he knows what they'll settle for, and he knows what they dream about."