While surfing is known as a fairly unstructured sport, the annual surf contest schedule in the Charleston area has a framework, though it’s probably not by intention.
The contest season kicks off with a nod to the hardiest surfers, the Icebox Open in February, and ends with an ode to longboarders, the Joe Hiller Longboard Classic in October on the Isle of Palms, the only contest not held on Folly Beach.
In between, female surfers get the spotlight at the Folly Beach Wahine Classic in June and the competitive vie for coveted titles at the South Carolina Governor’s Cup of Surfing district championship in August, the same month of another big surfing event for families of children with autism, Surfer’s Healing.
July belongs to the kids, surfers age 18 and under, including shortboard and longboard age divisions for “dudes” and “wahines.”
The D.J. McKevlin Gromfest is the longest running surf contest in the area, started by a founding father of local surfing, the late Dennis “Mr. Mac” McKevlin, a half century ago. McKevlin is founder of McKevlin’s Surf Shop and an early defender of the sport. He fought efforts by the city, in the early days, to ban surfing on the island.
The 51st Gromfest will be held Saturday, starting at 8 a.m., and maybe Sunday, at The Washout on Folly Beach.
Marshall DePass, the director of the Southern South Carolina District of the Eastern Surf Association, said the event will be either one long day or two days depending on the entries. As of Tuesday evening, DePass said he had registrations for about 50 youth, including some from outside of the Lowcountry.
While many of the smaller surf contests that fill the spring and summer schedule are for qualifying points for the ESA titles, Gromfest is not a point contest
“That’s cool,” DePass said, “because while it’s still a competition, they can relax and just enjoy the day. We try to make it fun.”
Among those fun features are a “mystery division” (which DePass says they create “on the fly”), fun beach games, such as the “dirty corndog” in which the kids run into the ocean, come out, roll in the sand and then dance, as well as a tradition, the “Push ‘n Surf” in which a parent and young child work together for the latter to catch a small wave.
Along with that fun, every competitor has a chance to win a new surfboard. Fees are $20 for entry for the first division and $10 for a second one.
Meanwhile, one the other side of the harbor, the Carolina Coast Surf Club will be holding its annual expo, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms.
The event line-up includes a board swap, surf historian and board appraiser Bill Simon, Odyssey Board Shop, surfing art work by Steve Rhea and booths by Ocean Fitness, Charleston Waterkeeper, Surfer’s Healing Autism Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Warrior Surf Foundation, Carolina Surf Brand and Carolina Surf Film Festival.
Club President Nick Sottile said the purposes of the event are to promote surfing in the Charleston area as a clean, family-oriented activity and demonstrate the importance of keeping our beaches and oceans clean and accessible to the public.
“There are not many places you can take your teenager, or pre-teen for that matter, to have fun together while getting great exercise, with no cell phones or PlayStation controls in their hands. Once a child experiences the exhilaration of riding a wave, he or she is hooked on this ‘natural high’ for life,” said Sottile.
He adds that surfing is eco-friendly sport because “you take nothing and you (should) leave nothing.”
“Nothing is taken from the environment and nothing is left it in. There are no gasoline fumes or litter left in the ocean after surfing. Nature is none the worse off for ‘sharing’ the waves. Man meets nature in a very healthy, positive, self-fulfilling manner,” says Sottile.
Meanwhile, another big surfing weekend is a month away with Governor’s Cup on Aug. 6-7 at The Washout and the fourth annual Benefit for Surfer’s Healing noon-5 p.m. Aug. 6 at Loggerhead’s Beach Grill, also on Folly Beach.
The latter costs $20 and includes music, lunch, an auction and raffle. For more, email firstname.lastname@example.org .