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When the surf’s up, it’s time to ride the waves at Pawleys Island

Surfing combines fun with physical activity, mental relaxation, and a deep connection with nature.

That’s why dozens of children participate in surf camps and people of all ages take surfing lessons on Pawleys Island, recently named the best beach in South Carolina by USA Today/10 Best. Surf camps are designed for children of ages 7 to 15, but surf lessons are for anyone who wants to learn. Hey, we’re all young at the beach, right?

While lessons are offered throughout the year, surf camps are only offered in the summer months.

Standing up on the surf board and riding a wave is a big thrill for students.
(Photo by Bronwen Bodie/Surf The Earth)

Surfing at Pawleys goes way back. In fact, a Pawleys Island Surf Club was established with 13 members in 1966.

Scott Benston, owner of Surf The Earth, a local business that has offered surf camps and surfing lessons on Pawleys Island for the last 23 years, said teaching the next generation about surfing is important.

“We have had thousands of kids come through our surf camps and lessons since 2001,” Benston said. “It is a great way to introduce kids and adults to the ocean and our local beach, meeting other local surfers, and gaining confidence to catch waves.”

He said experienced surfing instructors teach with an emphasis on water safety.

“Surfing students will learn how to respond to rip currents, properly read the surf conditions, and basic water-safety skills,” Benston said.

Learning to surf brings children more than a fun new pastime. “If you’ve always wanted your child to have a strong knowledge and confidence level around the water,” Benston said, surfing can help with that.

Surfing instructors teach basic skills on the beach before students get in the water.
(Photo courtesy of Surf The Earth)

Pawleys Island is the perfect place to learn about surfing, he said.

“Pawleys island is a very family-oriented beach,” Benston said. “We typically have gentle forgiving waves that make it easy for beginners.”

Mark A. Stevens, director of tourism development for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, said the history of surfing on Pawleys goes way back.

“There’s a great book called ‘Surfing in South Carolina’ by Lilla O’Brien Folsom and Foster Folsom that came out a few years ago, and it really showed how surfing wasn’t just something they do in California and Hawaii,” Stevens said. “The entire coast of South Carolina calls out to people to ride the waves.

“Pawleys Island is prominently featured in the book, and it’s fun to look back at how surfing became big on Pawleys back in the 1960s. Of course, it continues to be something that brings people to Pawleys today.”

A young surfer paddles out to catch the next wave. (Photo by Bronwen Bodie/Surf The Earth)

For beginners who want to learn how to surf, it’s important to take lessons from experienced instructors. “It not only accelerates your learning curve,” Stevens said, “but it also enhances your enjoyment of surfing by ensuring that you learn in a safe, effective, and enjoyable manner.”

Surf camps

Week-long surf camps are offered from late-May to mid-July, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $400 per child per week. Along with basic surfing skills, they teach water safety, understanding ocean conditions, and information on choosing the right equipment for their skill level.

“Some of the key skills the surfers leave with are the ability to read and understand conditions, choosing the right equipment, and proper technique,” Benston said. “Also, the kids learn a familiarity with our local beach, meeting other local surfers, and confidence in catching waves.”

Surf lessons

Two-hour surfing lessons are offered throughout the year from 9 to 11 a.m. or 1 to 3 p.m. 

Surfing instructor Brian McDonough, left, cheers on a student during a lesson.
(Photo courtesy of Surf The Earth)

The cost is $75 per lesson for one student, $120 per lesson for two students, and $180 per lesson for three students.

Most lessons take place at the Second Street beach access, toward the north end of Pawleys Island. But, Benston said, special locations can be arranged in advance.

“Our fun and experienced surf instructors are ready to show you the easy road to learning or improving your surfing skills,” Benston said. “You are never too old to learn, or too young to try!”

By Clayton Stairs / tourism manager for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce

Surf camp students learn proper techniques and water safety.
(Photo by Bronwen Bodie/Surf The Earth)