Champion windsurfer Glenn McKinlay, who owns South Padre
Island’s On the Beach Surf Shop, spoke with Texas Highways Senior Editor Lori
Moffatt about the fortuitous life twists that took him from the coal mines of
northern England to the sunny shores of South Padre.
“I grew up in Nottingham, England, and my father was a coalminer, and my mother worked in a factory. So, like a lot of kids, I did what my father did, and I started working in the mines, too. This was in 1979.
“When I wasn’t at work or in school, I went skateboarding at the local youth club—kind of like the YMCA. And the guy at the youth club said he had found a new sport called windsurfing that he wanted us kids to try. So I’d go to the coast with a friend who lived across the street, and we got pretty good. The manufacturer of the boards was located in Nottingham, and the company took us under its wing, and started taking us to races.
“In 1983, we broke a world speed record for tandem windsurfing at Weymouth, England, in an event called the Weymouth Speed Trials.
“But I was still working at the mines. Then, some friends said they were going to Texas to go surfing and to visit their sister, who lived at Port Isabel. I came along on a five-week vacation, and loved it. I didn’t have to wear a wet suit, and there were dolphins swimming around me; it was pretty much like paradise.
“In South Padre, I met Gene Bagley, who was building a store called On the Beach. He had been in South Padre since 1976, and had a couple of other stores on the island. He said to me, ‘I need someone who knows about windsurfing. Can you be here in March, when I complete the store? You can take over the windsurfing sales portion.’
“So that was my release from the coal mines. I worked for him for 13 years, then took a detour and moved to Houston for awhile. A few years later, I talked to Gene, who said he was retiring and did I want to buy the store? I said sure.
“You never, never know where your sports can lead you. Life has some strange twists. I’ve learned to just go with them. Every time I sit back to think about my life, I’m just glad I found South Padre Island.”
From the June 2012 issue.