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Learning How to Surf at Folly Beach is Gnarly

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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I always wanted to be a Betty - you know, those rad surfer girls who can shred the gnarl with all the other mega-rippers.

But trekking across the country to get rag-dolled by a West Coast bomb is just wack. And yo dude, the water is wicked cold. Major brain-freeze!

The surfing is way more righteous in South Carolina, where the water temperature is a balmy 82 degrees and the waves an easy one to three feet. The perf conditions to learn how to carve. Totally!

Of all the great beaches in SC, none is better for surfing than Folly Beach, a natural barrier island just eight miles from Charleston. It lays claim to some of the biggest and most bodacious swells on the East Coast. It's also home to the famous "Washout," a favorite surf spot of Bettys and Mateos (surfer dudes with mad carving skills.)

The Washout is a natural phenomenon created when Hurricane Hugo washed away a block of beachfront homes, allowing the wind to blow unimpeded across the shore through the wetlands to the Folly River. They say the wind effect is what causes the water to roll so well.

But before I could hang with the kahunas surfing The Washout, I would need a few lessons. I contacted McKevlin's, the longest established surf shop in South Carolina and one of the oldest on the entire East Coast. Opened in 1965, the shop is located on Center Street, the island's funky commercial strip.

I had visited McKevlin's on many of our family vacations to Folly just to browse through all the cool surfing gear. One summer, my sister-in-law and I got it into our heads to rent a surfboard from the shop. We didn't have a clue what we were doing, and that became evident as soon as we hit the waves. Neither of us ever managed to stand on the board, but it was hilarious watching each other dump into the water over and over again.

Things were going to be different this time. I was serious about surfing. So I turned to the experts. McKevlin's doesn't offer lessons, but the staff is happy to put you in touch with one of the area's independent professional instructors.

I arranged to meet with Drew Getsinger, who grew up on neighboring James Island and has been surfing on Folly the last 10 years. He set me up on a light, wide, thick board with a soft top deck. The larger, wider boards are best for beginners because they're more stable and buoyant. The better a board floats, the faster it will paddle, giving you more time to get to your feet before the wave breaks.

Short boards are easier to turn but require more experience to ride. These are the kinds of boards you'll see at The Washout. With a small board, you have to take off on the steepest part of a wave and get to your feet quickly - a trick that can take months to master.

To start, Drew had me lie flat on the board. He showed me how to jump up and position myself with my feet spread across the length of the board, bending my knees and keeping my body low. I practiced the maneuver several times on shore before venturing into the water.

The waves were crashing hard against us as we made our way through the ocean to waist-deep water. Rather than have me paddle and "catch" a wave, Drew launched me into the surf, allowing me to concentrate on getting to my feet. I got up the first two or three times with relative ease, but I found myself in the drink after just a few seconds.

It was exhilarating all the same. Feeling the power of the water underneath me was awesome. I didn't even mind getting Maytagged - that's when you wipe out and get worked by the white wash, as in a Maytag washer. The cool ocean water felt good on a warm summer day.

After the hour lesson, I drove down to The Washout to watch a group of hardcore surfers rippin' through the surf. Cowabunga dude!

Want to go surfing at Folly Beach?

Surf report: For daily surf conditions, click here.

Best surf spots: Click here for the best sections of beach for surfing and the waves you can expect to find there.

Lessons: Private one-hour lessons are about $60 and include use of a surf board. Call McKevlin's Surf Shop at (843) 588-2247 to get contact information for local instructors.

Surf cam: See what's happening on the beach in real time. Live web camera images can be viewed here.

Visitor tips: Street parking is allowed, but be sure your car is facing in the direction of traffic and completely off the road. You'll get a ticket if any one of your tires is on asphalt.

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.