Longtime Texas surfing mecca demolished

November 21, 2009 11:46:17 AM PST
Mark Faggard remembers the cheering of the crowds lined up on Meacom's Pier to watch surfing competitions in years past. The Beaumont lawyer with a passion for surfing remembers the hooting and hollering would break out when a surfer "pulled off a great maneuver."

Now the spot is quiet except for the crashing of the waves and the cries of shore birds.

The cheering crowds won't return.

Hurricane Ike, which took so much from so many, dealt a death blow to a humble wooden pier that was the heart of surfing culture on Bolivar for 44 years -- known as the premier surfing spot on the upper Texas Gulf Coast.

Meacom's Pier was the heart of a close-knit group of surfers and fishermen who forged friendships to last a lifetime.

After more than four decades of service to the Bolivar community, the Texas General Land Office had the structure torn down two weeks ago.

When Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf last week, she provided a good swell for surfers, and normally they would have been out in droves to take advantage of it.

But without the pier to generate hard breaking waves, the surfers were scattered to spots at Galveston and Surfside.

Terry Harris, who bought the pier in 1984 and ran it until 1998 when it was pummeled by Tropical Storm Frances, said the John Mecom Oil Co. built the pier in 1965 to reach an offshore drilling site.

At almost a mile long at 4,970 feet, it was the longest wooden pier structure in the Gulf of Mexico, Harris said.

Harris, a Nederland native, grew up surfing at the pier.

The pier was used by the oil company until 1968 or '69, when two foremen from the company bought it and called it Shorty's Longest Pier. When Harris bought it, he wanted to return to the traditional nomenclature, but he added in the "A" to avoid any possible copyright infringement.

"I lived at the beach and always loved surfing," he said. "I knew it had potential as a viable business."

Built at an angle from the shore, the pier created the conditions for "really great surf" on the right side when the swell was on the southeast and on the other side when the swell was on the southwest.

It also caused sandbars to form where surfers could await breaking waves.

Faggard, whose family originally settled Gilchrist, began surfing as a teen in the late 60s.

He remembers seeing acclaimed Beaumont photographer Keith Carter and his buddies come into his family's store on their way to hit the surf.

"When Keith and those guys would come in Faggard's Store I'd think, these guys are pretty cool. I gotta start surfing," he said.

He stopped surfing after being hurt in car accidents in the '90s. He'd only recently returned to it months before Ike hit.

When Faggard finally was able to get to the peninsula after the storm, Bolivar was a scene of total devastation.

"It was like a nuclear holocaust," he said in an interview in his downtown law office. "It hurt too bad to cry."

Gilchrist and all that his family had built there had been wiped off the map.

"I could barely even find Faggard's Store Road," he said.

Faggard took it upon himself to get involved when he learned the pier faced removal and Rollover Pass was to be closed.

"Because of my family heritage it fell on me," he said. "Somebody had to go up there and stick up for the people."

Faggard understood that the GLO could not pass up possibly more than $1 million from FEMA to hang onto the storm-wracked structure.

But he was determined to work toward rep lacing what Gilchrist lost with Rollover and Meacom's: highly popular fishing and surfing spots that attracted tourism dollars to the Bolivar community.

Faggard would like to see two or even more fishing piers built on the barrier island, although so far the state isn't going that far.

"I'm still pushing," he said. "I want two piers at least."

He visualizes recreational piers similar to those at Port Aransas.

They won't be Meacom's; but they will help the devastated community rebuild.

"This is not about a pier," Faggard said. "This is about a way of life."

Gary Linthicum, a Beaumont lawyer and surfer, said the loss of Meacom's means the death of surfing on Bolivar until another pier is built. "Really, Meacom's Pier was the only surfbreak on the Bolivar Peninsula," he said in a telephone interview.

"The removal of the pier has effectively extinguished surfing on the Bolivar Peninsula."

Linthicum, 45, had surfed at Meacom's as a kid, and had only renewed his passion for it in the past five years.

When the surf was up, as many as 50 surfers would be found at the site.

He surfed Meacom's about two weeks ago.

"The surf was very good that day," he said.

It was a bittersweet goodbye.

"We weren't quite sure when it was going to happen," he said.

"A lot of people were trying to make it to the pier this fall to get one last surfing experience with the core group of surfers."

GLO spokesman Jim Suydam said the badly storm-battered pier had to be torn down to qualify for FEMA fund ing tobuild a new fishing pier on Bolivar.

Details on a new pier wouldn't be available until the GLO learned how much money was coming from FEMA.

Suydam said the GLO was not insensitive to the surfers' feelings about the loss of Meacom's.

"It really was a special place," Suydam said. "The Land Office understands this was a special place. That's why staff went down there and met with surfers.

Talking of their memories of the pier, the surfers continually returned to the same theme over and over: the deep friendships the pier nurtured.

"It's the friends for life; surfing friends, fishing friends -- that's what made me rich at heart," Harris said.

"Meacom's friends were your friends for life," he said.

Faggard added that the friendship was not restricted to an elite inner circle; people came from all over Texas and beyond and were accepted and made welcome.

While nothing can take the place of Meacom's in the hearts of those who grew up surfing there, the new pier is eagerly anticipated.

"That's all we have is hopes and wishes," Harris said.