The Lost Coast: BP Oil Spill Changes Life for a Small Louisiana Surf Community

| posted on July 06, 2010

Louisiana left-hander. // Photo Mark Windham

Louisiana left-hander. // Photo Mark Windham

However far-reaching and colorful the 21st-century tribe of surfers has become, the few that call the southern Louisiana coast home are an anomaly to say the least. At 42, Kent Hornbacker’s family has been living near the surrounding beachheads of Louisiana for generations. With a set of piercingly blue eyes and a soft-but-unique accent, Hornbacker is a mix of both the traditional Cajun and the modern surfer. When it’s flat, he and his friends play the fiddle and Louisiana-centric music along the mud-toned shoreline. When a swell fills in, they’ll build a makeshift shelter and stay in the lineup until the last peak fades into the night. They are truly dedicated and are deeply appreciative of their home waters, even as the worst environmental disaster in this country’s history strangles the very life from them.

With nearly three-and-a-half-million barrels of oil bleeding into the Gulf and a multi-billion-dollar recovery effort underway, it’s easy for us to look at the BP disaster as a set of endless numbers. But however staggering the figures may be, they can never convey the day-to-day grit and painful reality that has swept across the people of coastal Louisiana. Their story—one of desperation, disgust, and anger—needs to have a face. And in south Louisiana, that face is Kent Hornbacker, a man that has lost his job, and his homebreak, because of the spill.

I understand that you’re one of the premier figures in the Louisiana surfing scene. Can you briefly tell us what the surf community is like down there?

Of course. The scene down here is pretty unique. We don’t have a lot of great days down here, but we get a few. I’ve been surfing out here for nearly 22 years and it hasn’t really changed too much over time. I basically surf with about five guys most of the time and there are really only a few places to surf that are accessible by car. All in all, I’d say there’s around 100 surfers down here total. The surf’s not always great, but it’s home and we love it.

How has the oil spill affected you and the other surfers in Louisiana?

I don’t even know really where to begin. It’s changed everything. I’ve lost my job, my homebreak, my family was trying to sell a waterfront motel and now that’s gone. It’s all gone. But you know what, it wouldn’t be as bad if I could go surf. But I can’t.

What were you doing for work before the spill?

I had a business where I was selling ice and fuel to the shrimp boats. But since they’re not fishing anymore, I’ve got no business.

What are the beaches looking like down where you are?

To be honest, I can’t even bring myself to go down there since the beaches were closed off. It’s too depressing. Even if I wanted to, the folks at BP have a barricade up and if you cross that, they’ll detain you.

Who’s acting as security down there? The Coast Guard, BP, or the police?

Mostly BP. It’s pretty horrible. It feels like they’re policing their own crime scene.

In your opinion, how long until you think you can surf your homebreak again?

I don’t know. Maybe never. I hope not. I feel like the area down here has been treated like a Third World country. As soon as a little bit of oil gets down on the Panhandle and their perfectly white sand, you see a whole army of people down there cleaning it up. But that’s not the case down here.

When news first broke that there had been an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and a subsequent leak, did you ever imagine that it would take this long to stop it?

No. Never. I just want them to stop the leak soon. They should have been able to do it by now. But you know what, you can’t really blame BP without blaming the government.

In your eyes, what needs happen to make this right?

Just stop the leak. Stop it. We just need to get that thing stopped. I can’t believe it’s taking this long. Stop the leak. That’s the first thing we’ve got to take care of.

Cajun Kent Hornbacker, enjoying better days. // Photo: Windham

Cajun Kent Hornbacker, enjoying better days. // Photo: Windham

  • Nik McCue

    Damn shame!! I know a handful of LA surfers and they are some of the nicest most dedicated dudes I’ve met. Always wanted to highlight them if the surfing media, but not like this. Hold your heads up, brothers…it will be over one day.

  • http://n/a G

    BP policing there own crime scene!

    Obama keeps a congressinal delegation away from seeing devastation first hand!

    I feel sorry for this country and what’s to come next with the Obama administration.

    Before this presidents term is over we (USA )will be dragged to hell and back.

    Praying for this country and the Gulf!

  • Jeff Raglus

    Hi Kent.
    I really can’t imagine that happening at my home break. We all feel for you guys.
    It’s a strange coincidence because only recently i wondered if you guys ever got surf in the gulf….? Now i know you do (did)…
    They really need to stop the oil… at least then you know you’re heading in the right direction…. right now everythings still going in the wrong… I’m glad you still have your music.
    Our thoughts are with you….

    Musician and surfer…. Jeff Raglus

  • David Hered

    Get your head out of the sand, so to speak.
    Do you really think Obama is the problem? Have you already forgotten who just left office and left this country in the worst shape it’s ever been in. We are in two illegal wars because of the… BUSH admin. We are basically a depression caused mainly by the BUSH admin. The BUSH admin. had the worst record for environmental concerns of any administration ever.
    Just keep up your prayin, you know god spoke directly to little Georgie Bush.
    Lets clean up the mess first then place blame where it belongs, with the oil companies, Cheney who did closed door deals with them and all of us for not putting the environment first.

  • Larry Queen

    I’m so sorry, Kent. We all have our fingers crossed for you and everyone who lives in the Gulf region. It’s just a travesty. And, just think that that judge down there is trying to block the moratorium on deep water drilling! Still! Jesus. Well, hopefully, sanity will prevail.

    I just have to point out that I also have a question to the person who calls themselves, “G.” What are you talking about? Your claims about the President are baseless and confusing. Perhaps you should redirect your anger towards the agency that allowed this to happen in the first place: the Minerals Management Service (which the Obama administration has now disbanded). They were the only government agency not receiving tax money, but were funded by taking a percentage of drilling revenues! The culture of corruption at that agency was only further aided and abetted by the Bush administration. That story has been widely published in every newspaper of note throughout the country and overseas. Do a simple Google search involving MMS+Bush+Cheney.

    Blaming Obama for this problem would be just as insane as claiming Obama took us into Afghanistan…wait! That accusation was just made as well! I forgot Michael Steele placed the blame on Obama for that one as well last week when he claimed that was “Obama’s War of Choice.” Come on, dood. Open your eyes.

  • Ian

    Sad story, hoping it somehow works out for you.

  • RR

    Feeling for your plight brah. My first hope is that you find work, and soon. Second that the water gets cleaned up in a hurry.
    Thanks though, for having a positive attitude. We all need some of that, even those of us not dealing with the same problems you are. Good on yuh.

    Lets focus on solution y’all, not blame placement.

    God Bless and Aloha from your braddahs across the way…

  • J

    Finally such an obscure spot and surfer highlighted… just a little too late. But glad to see my home break anyway. It’s all we have… I mean had.

  • http://n/a G

    BUSH BUSH BUSH! I couldnt give shxxt about bush! Lets talk about the here and now bra! Where in the fxxk has the Oman been Bra……. 80 days in and he mostly AOL on the disaster.

    Obama is in deep with BP as well as other political sell outs from both parties!

    So don’t tell me I have my head in the sand when you need to brush up on your research.

    I’m not a brain washed slave to any political party or leader.

    PS the Oman promised us we would be out Afghanistan so what up with that? when is that going to happen?

  • Big D

    I am so sick and tired of the constant political bashing that I see around here. I can guarantee that when I read the posts on a Surfer atricle, there will be some tree hugging, dope smoking, bleeding heart Democrat slugging it out with an SUV Driving, oil loving, baby seal clubbing Republican! All this balme isn’t going to solve anything. It’s like getting a cold and then hunting down the person who gave it to you jusst so you cna punch them in the face. It doesn’t make your cold go away. I think we can all take a lesson from Kent on this one, let’s just get the leak stopped. Maybe if everyone put they’re energy toward that instead of figuring out who to blame, the world would be a better place. Geeeesh!

  • http://Surfermag Jona

    Hi Kent and Aloha from your brahs in Africa,
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.
    That they stop this obscene oil leek,and that your lives can return to some semblance of order.

  • Mike

    G, prayer is not going to do shit. That is half the problem with the U.S. People choose to “pray” instead of “do.” Get the hell off the internet and do something about it. Neither Obama nor Bush caused the spill. It was caused by BP. Now get of your ass and go get stuck in, mate.

  • randy coffman

    eerrrrrge all this b s is making my head hurt i just wish i could surf my home break hurry press rewind theres no place like home theres no place like home somebody pleeeeease wake me up im having a bad nightmare and it seems i cant wake up i did get to go surfin 2 weeks ago in st aug fla had a great time felt good for a few days now its back to stess and uncertinty from the LA SURFERS THANKS FOR ALL OF THE PRAYERS AND THOUGHTS on what were going though

  • jo

    Hey Kent! I hope the day comes when you can surf your beaches again! I discovered some of your videos on youtube called “The Fourchon Chronicles,” I had no idea the waves got that good in Louisiana. The skits in your videos are very funny as well. Keep your chin up, things will get better one day!

  • Trey Pendergraft

    Kent, I grew up “down the road” in St. Bernard…..surfed Fourchon a few times… in TX now and hit Surfside, or ‘Gorda when its happenin. I feel for everyone down there. Our kids will never know what it’s like to fill an onion sack with specks or reds……TRAGIC. Hoping the newest cap works. I’ll gladly show you the breaks we have a few hours to the West….good luck

  • Bruno

    man, Your comment “I feel like the area down here has been treated like a Third World country.” was one of the worst I have ever read. Maybe you deserve what’s happening to you, if you think this would be normal and acceptable in a third world country.

  • kattie rose

    well my comment is gunna go towards this “bruno” guy. i just dont understand how someone can be so cruel and heartless to say that kent deserves this. kent happens to be my dad which i am proud to say.. no one deserves to go through what my dad is going through as well as the other LA surfers.. i would like to see you live down here all of your life, life the only lifestyle that you know, and then one day everything you know is taken away from you. i bet you wouldnt be able to say anyone deserves that then you asshole. they are treating us like a third world country! if not worst! you dont eb;ven have any idea how they are treating us down here! the news that you watch does not show you how about next time you talk what you know and the stuff you dont know,, just keep your mouth shut you @#*@! yankee.

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  • J

    Yep… Bruno is a self-righteous hypocritical idiot. He do doubt totally missed the point and went off on some weird tangent. It was never said a third-world country deserved this. NO one deserves this.