The City Magazine Since 1975

All’s Swell

All’s Swell
June 2011
Charleston as Surf Central

It’s dawn patrol at the Washout. Sunrise is a mere hint on the horizon; the sets roll in clean and smooth, the wind still snoozing. And while the rest of Folly Beach sleeps off the previous night’s shenanigans, 50 or more surfers are already bobbing in the dark water. It’s prime time for Charleston’s wave riders. “By noon, there’ll be 500 people out there, surfers as far as you can see in each direction,” says Rick Anson, a veteran surfer who competes regularly and has held the local Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) division’s “Iron Man” title for the last decade.

Granted, Charleston ain’t Teahupo’o or Maverick’s. You won’t find the long rides and consistent overheads of Costa Rica nor waves with North Shore drama or horsepower. But at Folly and Isle of Palms, you will find a passionate throng of longboarders and shortborders, men and women of all ages and eras, eager to paddle out, pop up, and shred it all the way back to shore, then wait for the next good wave to do it again.

Surfers have been hanging 10 here since the early 1960s (McKevlin’s has been selling boards on Folly for 46 years), but the sport’s popularity has swelled significantly over the last decade, so much so that the thriving local surf scene, with numerous contests and an enthusiastic culture and community, caught the attention of Outside magazine, which christened Charleston the East Coast’s “Best Town for Surfing” last year. Our conditions can be hit-or-miss, but when Charleston’s on (say, when a hurricane is brewing), the lineup gets crowded and old timers and newbies alike rip curl to their hearts’ delight.

“Once you get hooked, it’s endless fun,” says Anson, age 54, who grew up in West Ashley, learned to surf at age eight, and has been active in the local surfing community ever since, competing and volunteering with all the local ESA contests. “Each wave is a new experience, something different and challenging every time. Surfing appeals to a wide variety of people, especially since our waves are not that daunting. But when it’s good here, it’s really good.”


Catch a Wave

Gear Up:
All you need is a board, surf wax, a leash, and sunscreen—patience and persistence don’t hurt either!

Get Out:
• East Cooper hot spots are around the Isle of Palms pier, anywhere between 21st and 31st aves., and Bert’s Break on Sullivan’s (in front of what used to be Bert’s Bar between Station 21 and 22).
• On Folly, you’ll find the best action at the Washout (down E. Ashley past the homes) and around the Folly Pier (though it’s against the law to surf within 200 feet of it).
• Surf conditions are usually best on an incoming tide. Less is more during the early morning hours—less wind, less sunburn potential, and less lineup congestion.
Learn How:
Take lessons to get pointers on reading the waves and learn proper technique, safety, and etiquette.
• Most of the local surf shops offer lessons: , , , and
• Area surf schools are another great option for private lessons and camps:
Greg Elliott Surf, ; Kai Dilling’s Sol Surfers Surf Camp, ; Kiawah Island Surf School, ; and Shaka Surf School,

Stay Safe:
•  Be a confident, strong swimmer.
•  Always use a leash to keep your board from hurting others.
•  Beginners, especially kids, might consider using a foam board.
•  Novice surfers should not get in the mix with seasoned surfers; move down beach from crowded areas. Always defer to the person who catches the wave first.

Surf the Web:
•  Check wave conditions before you head out, thanks to the Folly Surf Cam ( and the IOP Cam (
•  The ESA sponsors local and regional surf contests:
•  The Surfrider Foundation is an advocacy group working to protect the coastal environment:
•  Other resources:,, and