We are a beach family. We find inspiration at the shore. The roll of the surf plays like a symphony to our ears, and the sun sparkling on the water fills our imaginations’ paintings.
We’d heard whisperings about Pawleys Island, about how this little four-mile sliver remains little changed from its earliest beginnings, that it offers family-sized beach homes and no traffic-clogged sprawl. We’d heard about how this family or the other one visits year after year. I wondered how newcomers might feel in this place steeped in longstanding traditions. In search of an idyllic atmosphere, our family of four set off to discover the laid-back isle.
We crossed the bridge onto the island at the end of a travel day, as the setting sun burnished the salt grasses bronze. I immediately felt at home while locating our rental house, ditching our bags and setting out for a barefoot stroll next to the waves in the waning light. As darkness descended, the moon lifted out of the ocean, illuminating the tips of waves. Our two young teenaged sons wandered in front of us, skittering in and out of the water and splashing. My husband took my hand in his.
That night we pulled open our bedroom’s window sash, as the sea breeze billowed the little white curtains. The rolling surf played the sweetest background music ever. I don’t think I’ve slept that well in ages.
In daylight, the essence of Pawleys magnified. We sat amid a string of larger-than-expected beach houses that lined the shore. Locals call the style here “arrogantly shabby,” (forgivable because of the charm and welcome the wind- and salt-worn wooden structures exude). I could imagine three or four generations of the same family bedded down inside each one, sipping coffee and savoring breakfast on the porch overlooking the ocean. As my crew began to rise, they were rested and quiet—a departure from the rush back home.
Time felt different here. The small roads declared a 25-mph limit for driving, and most folks seemed to move at a relaxed pace. I bet our hearts even beat slower on this isle, in cadence with the natural rhythms of waves and tide, sun and moon. The Gullah folks (descendants of Lowcountry slaves who settled along South Carolina’s islands) described sunrise as “day clean,” the fresh start to make a new go of things. We felt ready.
As the sun rose high enough to warrant sunglasses, we joined the guides from Black River Outdoors for a leisurely paddle along Pawleys Island’s backwaters. We moved our sit-on-top kayaks through the tea-stained brown waters, spying long-legged herons stalking the shallows for minnows, and could make out oyster beds and scuttling crabs along the sandy bottom. Overhead, ospreys soared and dove to snare fish in their talons. Yet because we paddled in saltwater (not fresh), we avoided encounters with snakes and alligators. Our guides allowed that if we paddled the nearby Waccamaw River instead that we just might see those creatures. While my youngest son wanted to explore gator-territory, I was happy to keep to the salt life.
Afterwards, we meandered over to the Sea View Inn. Since 1937, this white clapboard bed and breakfast has welcomed guests to settle into a rocking chair on its screened porch. It looked like a good place to overnight.
The Sea View is a fine spot to tuck into lunch as well. Sea oats wave in the foreground as the diners sampled fried shrimp with coleslaw and local corn on the cob. There are plenty of local Gullah dishes here too, typically accompanied by rice, which has been grown on plantations near here for hundreds of years. Our teens devoured their meals, emerging afterwards for conversation while my husband and I ate at island pace. Simple food from the land and sea, served fresh. It was perfect.
In the afternoon, we sought out the original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock that hung under our house’s porch. Developed by a local riverboat captain in the late 1800s, his hand-woven design made a comfier bed than the lumpy hard mattresses of his time. Our vacation home offered up one big enough for my husband and me, and we curled together reading. Meanwhile, the kids took boogie boards out to the beach to zip around in the surf.
When we finally stirred ourselves to check on our guys, we found them splayed out on the sand snoozing. It’s wonderful how a sleeping teenage son reminds us so much of the wee lads we raised not too long ago.
Reenergized from our naps, we took rented seine nets and crab traps from Pawleys Kayaks to try our hands at catching dinner. We also cast lines from the marsh bridge to see if we could reel in some flounder known to hang out there.
No flounder found us, but we did corral some mullet with our net—enough to smoke on the grill and blend into a dip for dinner. I stopped by the Seafood Market and brought home some fresh flounder easily enough—and the hubs ordered in some provisions from the local Lowes grocery to round out our larder.
When the sun dipped below Pawleys horizon again, it seemed that most folks stopped what they were doing to take in the sight. We did, too. As the golden orb dipped into the creek and the pink, purple and gold light filled the skies, we saluted the end of the perfect island day.
We slowly ambled back to the beach side again to enjoy the moonrise with wine and soda. Toasting our first full Pawleys Island day, we looked to tomorrow. I thought I’d try to stand up on a surfboard in a morning session with the folks from Surf the Earth, and my guys were excited to learn to become true surfing dudes. Meanwhile, Surf the Earth promised to teach safe techniques as well as info about currents, winds and tides.
My husband surprised me by also suggesting birding—something he’s never mentioned before. But he said his dad took him birding a few times as a kid, and he wanted to share the experience with the boys. Then it struck me: I’d initially wondered how we’d fit in as first-timers on an island with such a strong legacy. There’s no special handshake, ceremony or popularity contest. After one day, we had become Pawleys’ people. We felt right at home. And when we return again, we’ll be like this family or the other who return here year after year. It’s that simple.Find your Pawleys Island home