48 years of hangin’ loose
By Chris Sokoloski
Nearly 50 years after a group of teens and 20-somethings formed Pawleys Island’s first surf club, some of the surviving members reunited on Saturday night for an evening of food, fellowship and memories.
Craig Thomas was one of the presidents of the Pawleys Island Surf Club when it started in 1965. He and his friends formed the club after being hassled by members of the Pawleys Island Civic Association who did not want them surfing on the island.
“We figured we could get together as an organization and meet with the Civic Association and say ‘hey look we’re not just a bunch of hoo-doos rolling in from all over the place. We live here, our families live here,’ ” Thomas said. “Our mission became to elevate the image of people surfing here.”
Back then there were about 30 club members, including a few kids from outside the area whose families vacationed on Pawleys every year.
“Pawleys was just a community and everybody was welcome,” Thomas said.
David Mercer, another long-time club member, said some people he knew couldn’t believe you could surf on Pawleys Island.
“A lot of people made fun of us,” Mercer said. “When I got [my surfboard] and I was talking about surfing to the guys in my school that I ran track with, they said ‘there ain’t no surf in Pawleys Island.’ … They were used to seeing pictures of Waimea Bay in Hawaii, 50-foot waves, which we wouldn’t even had tried. But that’s what the public thought of surfing.”
Club members were self-taught. There were no surfing lessons like there are today.
“The phenomenal thing about all of it was, we didn’t have a teacher, we didn’t have anybody to watch,” Mercer said. “We just looked at surfer magazines and if this kid was doing this on a wave, we went out and we did that on that wave. That’s how we learned.”
There was even a rival club on the island: The North Pawleys Surf Club, whose members were mostly from the Maryville area.
“We were all friends,” Thomas said. “We all surfed together.”
In a bit of mischief, North Pawleys members stole the Pawleys Island Surf Club’s sign from their clubhouse. The sign remained missing for about four decades until being discovered in the attic of a house in Andrews about three years ago and returned to former Pawleys Island Surf Club vice president Billy Hall at Christmas. The only alteration to the sign was a small “north” painted above Pawleys.
A few years after forming the club, the surfers wanted to make money to travel to surf contests, host competitions, and take trips together. That’s when the Pawleys Surf Wax Company was born.
According to a 1969 story in The Georgetown Times, those involved in the business were: “co-presidents Esther Johnson and Robert “Bob” Beason, vice president Johnny Knowles, secretary Avis Havel, treasurer Phil Powell, and club members Ellen Lachicotte, Billy Hall, Chip Lachicotte, Sally Harrell, Craig Thomas, Karl Cooper, Scott Beason, Gary Roberts, Edward Seale and Dick Blakeley.”
“The kids wanted to work their way,” Johnson said in the story. “They’d been baby-sitting, cleaning up beach rental homes, running errands, cutting grass and goodness knows – anything they could to raise money – they didn’t want to go around with a hat soliciting funds.”
Inside local houses, and a clubhouse in the parking lot of Pawleys Pier, club members cooked the wax, separated it into bars and packaged it themselves.
The company continued for years, but fewer club members remained involved as they grew up, went to college and got on with their lives. Scott Beason was active until 2012.
Pawleys Island has changed a lot since the surf club was formed. Condos now sit on the site of the old clubhouse.
Thomas said he started noticing changes in the 1970s when more people started living on the island.
“The [old] houses that were on the beach were well-built, they were good houses, but they were owned by people who understood that the ocean owned those houses,” Thomas said. “So they were not built like their permanent residences … In the 70s things became more affluent. People started getting some money. … They started building more complex wooden houses or even starting with the stone or brick. Once you saw that that’s when it started changing.”
The incorporation of the Town of Pawleys Island in 1985 brought even more changes.
“Before incorporation people from everywhere were welcome,” Thomas said. “After they incorporated that’s when they started that ‘arrogantly shabby’ myth, and they didn’t want people on the island … They tried to make Pawleys an exclusive franchise. If they could have they would have made it a gated community.”
Town officials then decided nobody could be on the beach after 10 p.m.
“Surf fishing at Pawleys has just been one of the greatest activities there is,” Thomas said. “Surfing at night, maybe all night, on the front beach waiting on spottail bass that comes running. You’d get by the groins and you could sit there. A lot of people worked at the paper mill and they would come over on their off-shifts and you’d fish all night.”
Thomas stayed away from the island for a long time after that and the surf club went dormant.
Descendants of the original members resurrected the club in 2003.
“We founded the club and now the grandkids [restored] it,” Thomas said. “They’re taking it to a new level.”
New club members have a better relationship with town officials than the original members had with the Civic Association. They even invited Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis to a competition.
“We had a good dialogue with the mayor and the council and the mayor came and found out it was a family event … and there were no problems and the town realized that this is a good thing,” Thomas said, adding that it was important to show that the club was trying to be respectful of other people’s rights, because most of the current surfers are not property owners.
Mercer is amazed at the skill level, and age of, today’s surfers. He and his friends started surfing in their teens. Today, kids are on boards as soon as they can walk and begin competing in elementary school.
Compared to the kids today, “we were prehistoric,” Mercer said.
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