FOLLY BEACH -- The morning after Hurricane Irene passed offshore, officials checking for damage up and down the beach saw an exposed, deteriorating piling beneath the Folly Beach Fishing Pier.
"The pier seemed to be doing fine, but as we walked around. we noticed a piling that seemed more corroded than the others," Tom O'Rourke, executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, said Tuesday.
The pier remains open daily for visitors and fishing. But hundreds of "shaggers" who gather to dance at the end of the pier will be directly impacted by the discovery.
Although it was the only piling that O'Rourke said appeared to have "more than normal wear and tear," PRC decided to have the piling, and the entire 1,200-foot pier, further examined by structural engineers. Arranging for that could take months, O'Rourke said.
PRC also decided that as a precaution the final two Moonlight Mixers for this year should be canceled. The popular mixers, if weather was good, would have each brought about 600 people, many of them from area shag clubs, to dances held at the pier's far end, called "The Diamond."
"We are not treating this as an emergency; it's just a precaution," he stressed.
O'Rourke noted the pier end has been known to sway when hundreds of people are line dancing simultaneously at the Moonlight Mixers. "It's just a really weird feeling," he said of the pier motion. He added that PRC concluded it would be unwise to hold the mixers in light of the questionable piling and the swaying.
"As soon as we saw the piling we said, 'Let's not roll the dice,'" O'Rourke said.
While canceling the mixers set for Friday and Oct. 7 is simply a precaution for PRC, it is disappointing for many shag enthusiasts who attend them regularly.
Lamar Hardy, 69, of Folly Beach, a former chairman of the Islanders Shag Club, said that for many people the pier is the area's preferred site for shagging.
Shagging is "a beautiful, rhythmic dance," and it is deeply rooted in Folly Beach, he said.
"Many people come from out of town, from Summerville and Moncks Corner, and the shag clubs that are all over" to attend the Moonlight Mixers, Hardy said.
He said shagging was the dance of choice for many who frequented the old Folly Pier, a dance hall that once stood where the current pier was built in the 1990s.
"Some of the best shaggers in the world danced there in the 1940s and 1950s," Hardy said.
Fortunately for shag enthusiasts, there are many other events planned. Many local shaggers are among thousands of people attending the 2011 SOS Fall Migration this week in Myrtle Beach, Hardy said.
Hardy also noted the pier takes motion when line dancers begin synchronized movements. "It's kind of spooky out there at the end of the pier when its starts swaying," he said.
Hurricane Irene passed offshore in late August. Its winds and rough surf badly damaged the south end of Folly Island, including PRC's Folly Beach County Park. Park buildings were damaged, and protective sand dunes and a large part of the parking area were washed away.
The park will be closed at least until early 2012, PRC officials said.
O'Rourke said PRC will lose some revenue from the combined closings of the park and the two mixers, but it would have been much worse had the park been closed at the beginning of the beach season rather than at the end of it.
The mixers require hiring DJs and use of PRC staff, and are not big revenue producers, O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke said that although sand moves all the time on the beach, after Irene churned up the waters, some pilings under the pier were more exposed than he'd ever seen before.
PRC will have to invite structural engineers to bid, and choose from among bidders and award a contract to get the desired inspection needed, O'Rourke said. He said the process could take about six months.
PRC had the pier thoroughly inspected following an October 2002 incident in which a drifting barge collided with the pier. The independently conducted probe found the pier to be in great shape, O'Rourke said.