Meet Stephȃn. Stephȃn despises water. Not only has he never been in the ocean, but he refuses to take a shower. In fact, he bathes himself like a cat, which he also despises, specifically the tabby that his sister got him on his 14th birthday. He also despises carpet, farm-to-table restaurants, tax incremental finance districts, the proposed 12 a.m. bar closing time, and anyone named Chad. However, he doesn’t despise his floral men’s swim trunks from Charleston Apparel. In fact, he secretly has plans to propose to them this afternoon at Folly Beach. Do you think they’ll allow champagne?

Surfing is inherently cool. The lithe, fit bodies, bronzed by the sun. The shaggy hair, bleached and oh so windswept. Even surf fashion with boardshorts and flip-flops will make the landlocked look beach-ready. Maybe that’s what makes it so intimidating.

Now that I’m 35 and a stay-at-home mom, the thought of hitting the beach with a surfboard under my arms feels strangely awkward. I used to surf in college. That statement should be in quotations as my “surfing” consisted of carrying my board in my truck at all times, living in a bikini, and occasionally, sitting on said board at the Washout trying to ignore a hangover while staring out at the horizon.

Fifteen years later, here I am with a tall drink of water, Nick, a surf instructor from Odyssey Board Shop. My left thigh weighs more than he does, but he’s so friendly, I don’t hold it against him. He walks my husband Tom and me through a half-hearted stretch and then introduces us to the two Liquid Shredder foam boards lying next to him on the sand — an 8-foot blue long board and a 6-foot, 9-inch board that I end up using. Nick then effortlessly demonstrates how to surf in five seconds: lie down, paddle, pop up. He might have done it twice, but it was so quick I can’t be sure.

I struggle to lie down on my board, apologizing in advance for how tired we both are — our toddler recently started boycotting sleep and we’re on the losing end of that battle. Nick grins and says he understands — he has three roommates that keep him up at night too. I can’t decide whether he’s messing with me or not, so I just lay down on the waxed board and fake paddle.

I’m instantly transported back to when I used to surf and recall how much my arms would ache. I get in push-up position and then quickly jump up, getting my feet under me. I’m up and standing. It turns out that both Tom and I stand with our left foot back, which in surf lingo makes us goofy footed. I’m oddly pleased with this synchronicity and gamely live up to the word, high fiving my husband as he surfs the sand next to me.

After all of five minutes of hopping up onto the board — it’s pretty easy — we slather ourselves with sunscreen and head to the ocean. Nick complains it’s grommish, which is simply a better way of saying crappy. After attaching the boards to our ankle to prevent us from losing them, we walk until it’s about waist deep and start to consider the waves rolling in.

They’re small and choppy. Sometimes one is so close to another that they merge into a single wave, but occasionally Nick will excitedly point out a slightly larger wave that rises above the rest and that’s our cue to begin to paddle.

I’m secretly pleased when Nick says he can tell I’ve surfed before and I’m even happier that it actually feels a little familiar. Perhaps it’s like riding a bike. When the wave comes, I slide my body onto the board, head and chest lifted up as I swim as hard as I can with my arms cutting into the water. That’s when reality sinks in. Catching a wave is the first half of the battle. The second half is surfing it.

It turns out, my husband is a champ at catching the waves. His board surges ahead of the white water, but at every attempt to stand, he flops to the left, falls to the right or simply stays stuck on one knee. Meanwhile, while I’m able to pop up easily enough, catching a wave is proving difficult. I catch one wave for every of my husband’s three, and I stand up a handful of times for a few seconds before flailing and flopping into the ocean. Those brief seconds are satisfying and addictive.

At one point I think I see a shark, and our instructor says to rest easy — it’s a dolphin playing in the surf, a common occurrence. Nick informs us that a shark’s fin will stay above the water while a dolphin will dip up and down. I happily learn that a dolphin is a shark deterrent so if you see one, you can actually be assured you’re no longer shark bait.

In between sets of waves, I also learn from Nick that the summer surf is pretty tame in Charleston, but in the winter, you get steady six-foot swells. Plus, there’s none of that scary Point Break attitude; a newbie can show up pretty much anywhere from Folly to IOP without getting too much hassle. Nick scoffs a little bit saying that the waves aren’t good enough to get worked up over, and bless his little young heart, he says that most of the surfers are from the older generation like me.

My eyes are stinging from the water, and my belly is full of salt. After an hour, I head in to shore to rest as my husband repeatedly tackles the waves, and Nick commandeers my board to have some fun for himself. When the two hours are up, Nick suggests I go in for one more attempt. Wouldn’t you know it, but I catch my best wave yet. I’m standing, the board is stable and steady beneath my feet, the waves cresting around me, and — I’m surfing! My husband also stands for his first time.

When it’s all said and down, we’re tired, happy, and hooked. The lesson was a little silly ­­— after all, it really is simply paddling and popping up — but it gave us the confidence we needed to try something that felt a little too cool and taught us that surfing is just another fun way to play in the waves. `


Coastal Expeditions

69 41st Ave, Isle of Palms
(843) 886-9590,

Charleston Kayak Company

4290 Ashley River Road, West Ashley
(843) 628-2879,

Charleston Outdoor Adventures

1871 Bowens Island Road, James Island
(843) 795-0330,

Flipper Finders

83 Center St., Folly Beach
(843) 588-0019,

Hydrofly Charleston Watersports
95 Ripley Point Dr., James Island
(843) 284-6290,

Nature Adventures Outfitters

1 Shrimp Boat Lane, Mt. Pleasant
(843) 568-3222,

Sea Kayak Carolina

793 Folly Road, James Island
(843) 225- 7969,


Air and Earth
1313 Long Grove Drive, Mt. Pleasant
(843) 388-9300,


1204 Palm Blvd, Isle of Palms
(843) 696-0174,

Sealand Adventure Sports

2205 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island
(843) 330-8156,


Air and Earth

1313 Long Grove Drive, Mt. Pleasant
(843) 388-9300,

Charleston Outdoor Adventures

1871 Bowens Island Road, James Island
(843) 795-0330,

Charleston Watersport Outfitters

1255 Ben Sawyer Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
(843) 884-9098,

McKevlin’s Surf Shop

8 Center St., Folly Beach
(843) 588-2261,

Ocean Surf Shop

31 Center St., Folly Beach
(843) 588-9175,

Odyssey Board Shop

217 Lucas St., Mt. Pleasant
(843) 884-5282,

1204 Palm Blvd., Isle of Palms
(843) 696-0174,

Parrot Surf & Skate

811 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
(843) 884-1035,

Sealand Adventure Sports
2205 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island
(843) 330-8156,


Affordabike Bicycle Shop
563 King St., Downtown
(843) 789-3281,

The Bicycle Shoppe

280 Meeting St., Downtown
(843) 722-8168,

B’s Bikes
250 Meeting St., Downtown
(843) 452-5326,

Mike’s Bikes

709 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
(843) 884-5884
808 Folly Road, West Ashley
(843) 795-3322,

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.