Paid parking is a relatively new concept on Folly Beach. Surfing alongside the pier is not; it’s been illegal within 200 feet of the structure since it was built. Still, the arrest of two surfers at the pier in recent months has earned the ire of many in the surfing community.
A Facebook page titled “Obese Folly Beach Cops suck. Finn Dennis [one of the arrested surfers] is Innocent!!” has garnered 439 members. In the group’s description it encourages surfers to “kindly find a new home for your old gum” in the beach’s parking meters — jamming them — and on police car windshields. And some have responded to the call.
At about 4 p.m. on June 29, 19-year-old Dennis made a decision that earned him a night of jail in North Charleston. After work, he drove out to Folly just after a violent summer thunderstorm rolled through. According to eyewitnesses, the beach was empty, but three surfers, including Dennis, were in the water by the pier. Even if the surfers hadn’t been within 200 feet of the pier, their presence was illegal. Surfing isn’t allowed from 6th block east to 6th block west between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer months. Phil Kirby, a longtime surfer at Folly, was riding waves at the Washout with his 17-year-old son Erik until the storm came. After it passed, Erik Kirby paddled out at the pier and joined Dennis, while his father watched from atop the pier.
“There were no lifeguards out, and nobody swimming or on the beach,” claims Phil Kirby. “After about 20 minutes, I was headed to the car to get my board when I noticed a lifeguard blowing his whistle from the beach. I told the guys that they should move away from the pier. They didn’t rush, but they started moving down.”
The arresting officer’s report states that the two surfers ignored the lifeguard’s whistles and an air horn before a second officer attempted to contact them with the loud speaker on his cruiser. “Lifeguards then entered the water on a paddle board, and after five minutes the male (Dennis) did exit the water,” the report states. “Upon exiting the water, (the) responding officer did place the male suspect under arrest and escorted him to the patrol vehicle … The suspect then began yelling ‘This is bullshit,’ and ‘This is fucked up.'”
Erik Kirby was not arrested — his father stepped in and took responsibility, and both were allowed to leave without charges. Dennis, however, had his board confiscated and spent the night in jail, charged with “disorderly conduct, failure to obey a law enforcement command, surfing in a restricted area, and no leash on surfboard.”
Dennis doesn’t deny getting upset with the officers after entering the police cruiser, but says he was shocked to be handcuffed immediately upon exiting the water and feared being Tased. Both Dennis and Erik claim the whistles and PA were not audible from the water. Dennis has requested a jury trial and plans to plead innocent.
A month and a half prior to Dennis’ arrest, Folly police arrested 30-year-old Kenny Cook on disorderly charges after he surfed at the pier. Folly Beach Mayor Carl Beckman says it’s not an uncommon occurrence.
“I can tell you as a fact that several of my friends in the ’60s got hit with misdemeanors for surfing at the pier,” says Beckman. “Sometimes you have to prevent people from hurting themselves. I know of one incident where one of my officers took off everything and swam out into the water and dragged a guy in.”
Although surfing at the pier has long been prohibited during peak visitor hours in the summer months, the new presence of lifeguards this summer has meant the law is actively enforced.
The only surfing break as consistently good as the pier on Folly Beach is the Washout, where paid parking meters went into effect in May 2007. With surfers now concentrating there during the day, the added hassle of having to pay to park has fueled more animosity between surfers and the city.
“Right now, my machines aren’t taking credit cards because someone took a brick and smashed the solar panel on my main unit,” says Buddy Maupin, the manager of Palmetto Parking, who the city contracts to operate the island’s 27 paid parking stations. “They put super glue on all my buttons so nobody can pay, and they shove nickels and (surfboard) wax in the slot where you put your dollar bill in. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have to go down there [to the Washout] and fix something that’s been vandalized.”
Some of the vandals’ anger may stem from Palmetto Parking erroneously charging in spots north of the Washout (not in their jurisdiction) for the past year. Stephen Fletcher decided to look into the city’s parking rules after receiving a ticket during the time it took to walk from his car to the pay station. Fletcher is a beach marshal at Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) events, an umbrella organization for East Coast surfers. He discovered that the area in front of the first house north of the Washout and continuing north was a free zone. To let the public know, Fletcher created flyers explaining the rules and distributed them on cars with tickets and to those who had paid unnecessarily.
After learning of the discrepancy, Mayor Beckman directed Palmetto Parking to remove their “pay at the meter” sign from in front of the homes. But there are no signs informing people who formerly paid that they no longer have to, and at least one sign still points in the direction of the free parking. You can be sitting in your driver seat, in free parking, staring at a sign directly out your windshield that tells you to pay. No signs explain that parking is free before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
“It’s a flim-flam parking scam,” says Fletcher, whose flyers direct people to the municipal code online where they can read the rules. The flyer proclaims, “Don’t pay the man all the time; you can surf for free!”
That may not last long though. Last week, the city surveyed the area north of the Washout, and Palmetto Parking’s Maupin hopes they’ll soon rezone the area for paid parking. He adds that in any of the areas they monitor, the company picks up trash and tends to foliage. Palmetto Parking also plans to bring bathrooms and showers to the Washout on a portable flatbed trailer.
“I’m trying to do the best I can for the citizens of Folly Beach and anybody that comes here,” says Maupin. “This is one of the last beaches on the East Coast to begin paid parking. I wish I never had to write a ticket, but people have to pay. It’s as simple as that.”
Nancy Hussey, the director of the Southern South Carolina District of the ESA, believes that a few individuals, and not necessarily surfers, are responsible for the vandalism. However, she says that the machines “hardly ever work” anyway, especially when they’re wet from rain. She hopes that the estimated 3,000-or-so Charleston area surfers won’t all be judged by the actions of a few. Hussey sympathizes with Dennis, reiterating that in ESA surf contests, it’s notoriously hard for surfers to hear the PA from the water.
“But not surfing the pier has been the law for a really long time,” says Hussey. “He probably should have come out of the water when he first saw the lifeguard.”