Under a clear, crisp sky that’s still a shade of grayish blue, the soft wind brushes over your ears with a faint whisper, while the sun remains hidden beneath the horizon. The waves hiss in the distance as your bare feet leave footprints in the damp, cool sand, and glassy, chest-high waves break along a perfect line out in the open ocean. You apply wax to a flawlessly shaped piece of fiberglass board as the sun peeks above the water. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the fiery ball has fully emerged, its crimson rays bouncing off of the shoreline as you take your board and walk out to meet the waves. For any soul surfer, a perfect day is just beginning.
According to Folly Beach’s Kristin Tanner, one of the top female surfers along the entire East Coast, rising before dawn and making it into the water for a sunrise session is the stuff most surfers dream of. The 22-year-old Tanner, who has been surfing the Washout at Folly since she was five, comes from a long lineage of surfers. Her father, Glenn, was the first surfer from Folly Beach to ever capture a U.S. title. Dubbed the “Kingpin of the Washout,” the elder Tanner has earned three East Coast surfing championships, as well as countless other awards, making him one of the most well-known and most respected shredders in the area.
Tanner’s mother, Terri, is a champion, too. “My mom won the East Coast with me in her belly,” Kristin says. “I pretty much popped out, and it was like, ‘Hey, you’re going in the ocean.'”
And so from a young age, Kristin Tanner has spent her days in the water. The Eastern Surfing Association has named her their Iron Woman of the Year, and she’s finished first in a heap of competitions, including the South Carolina State Surfing Championship. Last year, she made it to the East Coast finals and earned a sponsorship from Rip Curl. She’s currently a member of the McKevlin’s Surf Shop surf team. However, Tanner doesn’t let any of that get to her head. “For me, the most important thing is doing it for fun,” she says. “If competitions get to the point where they’re stressing me out, then I don’t want to do it anymore. Then surfing is associated with stress, and it’s supposed to be the opposite of that.”
As her father taught her, Tanner remains humble. “A lot of people start getting into competitions and thinking about money or popularity, but most soul surfers wouldn’t think that’s what it’s about at all,” she adds.
While she does enjoy clearing her mind with a solo session after a stressful day every now and then, Tanner typically prefers to have some company in the water. Even when she’s competing, Tanner says she’s making new friends between waves. “I’m the kind of person that, even in contests, during my heat, I’ll be talking with other people,” she admits. “I’ll be like, ‘Did you just see me wipe out?’ I guarantee that half of the people out there, after they get a good wave, look up the beach like, ‘Did anybody see that barrel I just got?'”
For a woman in a sport that is, for the most part, predominantly male, Tanner’s confidence and skills are something that often surprise the opposite gender. While she has made a name for herself at the Washout, there are still instances where guys automatically assume that, as a girl, Tanner doesn’t know what she is doing and will try to steal her waves. “I’ll drop in and they’ll cut me off and I’m like, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ and they’re like, ‘Oh shit, she actually just stood up,'” she says with a slight grin.
Like many of the others that flock to the Washout, Tanner says the Folly community is a tight-knit family, admitting that her fellow surfers are the No. 1 reason she loves the area. “It’s such a great atmosphere out here,” she says, pointing down the Folly Beach pier from an outdoor table at Locklear’s Beach City Grill, where she has worked for seven years and counting. “No matter when or where I paddle out, I see somebody I know,” she says. “I can go out and I don’t feel intimidated. I know that when I go out, I’m going to see my friends and have a good time.”
Chris Cauthen, another regular at the Washout, agrees with Tanner that the Folly surf scene is a friendly and supportive environment. “I just started doing contests this past year, and everyone is super chill. It’s a nice group of people,” he says.
And while Folly isn’t exactly known for its ideal waves, Tanner says, that does not deter many people from getting in the water. “Even when there aren’t waves, we’re still out there, because we’re dedicated and we want to have a good time,” she says.
Tanner always tries her best to be nice to everyone in the water, especially girls, for the sole reason that there are so few in the sport to keep her company. However, she doesn’t hesitate to throw out a word of warning to novices. “Lately, a lot of college kids think, ‘Oh, the Washout is the best place to go,’ and they don’t know what they’re doing, they get in the way, and then they get run over,” she says, adding that the offenders in question are usually the same people who leave trash on the beach. “If you stay out of the way, then you’re fine. It would be more like if you’re not local or if you’re not from here, and you get in somebody’s way, you’re going to get yelled at.”
Cuff Gleaton knows all about that. When he ventures out to the Washout, amateur hour is over, and he’s not afraid to let anyone and everyone know. The 27-year-old Gleaton has been surfing since he was nine, and he admits that he will be the first to go off on a “deryl,” or, in layman’s terms, somebody who has no clue what they’re doing. “There’s times when I’ll freak out on somebody, and everyone except my boys will paddle away,” Gleaton explains. “I’ll tell someone to go down the beach, because they’re going to take a good wave and they’re going to do the same thing they would on a knee-high wave.”
Gleaton, who grew up in Mt. Pleasant, got his start surfing on Isle of Palms but moved over to the Washout when he was around 13. “My mom would drop me off at the beach, and I’d just stay out there all day,” he says. Gleaton still remembers the euphoric feeling of catching his first wave — a feeling, he says, that changed his life. “Some people are doing it just to do it. It’s not their life,” he says. “It’s my life. It’s my sport. It’s the only thing that’s keeping me alive. Without it, I don’t know what the fuck I would be doing.”
Now, with nearly two decades on the water, Gleaton is confident that he and his crew are some of the most talented guys at the Washout, and that most local surfers would recognize this fact. “People get it and people know who we are,” he says. “We’re always on all of the best waves.” Unfortunately, Gleaton explains, the good rides are, for the most part, few and far between. Which is why, when the swells come, newbies should stay away from the Washout. “When we get good waves, these barneys need to acknowledge the fact that they need not be out there,” Gleaton says. “And they know who they are. It’s not a fucking mystery.”
According to Gleaton, the Washout is a place for experienced, aggressive surfing, a location where freshmen riders could pose a danger. “If you’ve got some stupid ass going out there and ditching a board, someone can get cracked in the head and get seriously hurt,” he says, Recently, one of his crew received six staples in his head because of a deryl. “If you surf and you know what you’re doing, go out to the Washout. If not, then go down the beach and you’re going to accomplish the same thing. You’re going to have fun. If you surf around us, though, you’re not going to have fun, because you’re not going to catch any waves.”