HUNTING ISLAND LONGBOARD BUCKLE Surfing Still Rides Beaufort's Love Affair With Water by David Lauderdale
Hunting Island was their Big Sur.
The Melody Makers were their Beach Boys.
Military kids who had tasted the ripping waves of California and Hawaii were their models.
And the endless summer began for the boys of Beaufort.
Half a century later, the sun still hasn’t set on the long, thin line of Beaufort surfers.
As the city now celebrates its love affair with the water with the 61st Beaufort Water Festival, local surfers are still chasing the big breaks, poring over weather statistics, living by the tides, and either dashing to the sea or cursing the burden of a work week.
They still live for the word of storms far over the horizon that churn up swells in our gentle, shallow surf.
They live for daybreak in a pounding ocean with rowdy curls.
“It is a freedom,” said one of those early surfing military brats in Beaufort, Dennis Litchfield, now almost 64, now making custom surfboards in Florida, and still surfing. “It’s a culture within a culture. It’s kind of a nomadic life.”
He said the 1966 movie “Endless Summer” or the 1991 movie “Point Break” with Patrick Swayze can explain it to people not used to paddling in circles — or cramming seven kids in a 1955 Chevrolet for the dash to Hunting Island State Park with eight boards and one more kid on the roof.
It’s a culture that Beaufort parents tried to discourage. But not even the Vietnam War breathing down their necks could shut it down.
It’s a culture that prompted Harry Bazemore and a buddy to hitchhike from Beaufort to California in the summer of 1969, lugging a Hobie surf board and only $12.
“It took us 52 rides to get to LA,” said Bazemore, now in his 60s, still a free spirit, and still chasing waves in Florida.
“It’s a culture that was ragged on for many, many years,” Litchfield said. “You know — ‘you guys are all slackers, why don’t you work?’ But how can you work when the waves are good?”
Old surfers say there wasn’t much to do in Beaufort.
“Growing up on the beach, all you could do is watch the turtles, surf or play Frisbee — or chase girls. That’s where the girls were,” said former City Council member Mike Sutton. He and his brothers — Mark and Bob — surfed while their dad laid the infrastructure on Fripp Island.
Richard Neill, now a 66-year-old respected Realtor in town, says, “I was the best surfer.” He may have been the first in Beaufort to hang five.
He worked all summer at Six L’s Packing Co. on St. Helena Island to buy a surf board. It arrived by freight train on Depot Road after what seemed like an endless trip.
Fred Gauch, now living aboard his sailboat on Hilton Head Island, was leader of Beaufort’s hottest band, the Melody Makers. It’s still making music, but in the late 1960s, it was synonymous with Beaufort surfing.
He attributes the craze to the throbbing tunes of the Beach Boys.
“Ronnie Nobles and I had two surfing vans,” Gauch said. “He had an old Ford Econoline that had ‘Look Homeward Angel’ painted on the front, and I had a VW van with a peace symbol painted on the front with ‘Happiness’ painted over that.”
They started the Hunting Island Surfing Association that peaked at about 30 members. Members wore burgundy, hooded pullovers with a black diamond sewn on the back with the white lettering of an association that would sometimes host competitions with the funny-talking kids from Charleston.
Most people point to Greg Clark as the father of surfing in Beaufort. Other names are legion: Robert Gay, a shrimper who at one time owned a surf shop on St. Helena Island; Bill Deloach; Mike Rainey; David Brown; Barry Gooch, the unofficial photographer who sometimes posts old surfing photos on Facebook; Ted McCaston; Steve Hughes; Jack Keener; Joe Harter; Bill Murphy; David and Milledge Morris, when they could get away from work at their daddy’s Humble Buck’s Esso and its caged tiger; “Fast” Freddie Bazemore; Randy Bazemore, who worked 50 crab pots in Battery Creek when he was 13; Ray Charon; Ted Ledford; and even a few girls, like Gail Knight, Gwen Cail and Sissy Burgess.
Many of the kids hung out at Woods Grocery on St. Helena near the beach, where operators Bill and Frances Montcalm would sometimes run them credit on sliced baloney. They would even go to Melody Makers shows with the kids at the old Baileys club in Okatie.
Bill was a strapping, old-timey retired Marine, and Frances could weld anything and shoot a gun. They ran the store for her daddy, Henry W. “Mac” Woods, who preferred to be hunting or farming such oddities as a 103-pound pumpkin or watermelons so big they made him quit bringing them to the Waltermelon Festival competition in Hampton.
“Kids could eat there,” said Linda Cail, who worked at the store for her aunt and uncle. “Everybody was helping each other back then. There was not much on the island then.”
The surfers also befriended a harmless starving artist they called “Driftwood” Corry, who made art from driftwood and other found objects and sold it in a hut by the road.
Today, when a storm is brewing, as many as 70 surfers can show up at Hunting Island.
They don’t have to scan the skies at dawn or listen to the buoy reports on NOAA weather radio. Websites tell exactly what waves will be doing and where. They can do group texts to keep each other in the loop.
“It’s like rocket science came to the surf shack,” Litchfield said.
Glenn Godley of Beaufort led an online petition last year that got 812 signatures and helped the state change its mind after prohibiting surfing at the best spot at South Beach because it is a swimming area in the Hunting Island park.
In 1982, Godley won a Water Festival Surf Contest promoted by Niels Christensen. He’s in the new generation of Beaufort surfers who don’t get as much grief from their parents about “wasting time” at the beach.
“When we have a big gathering in the surf during business hours, we call it a ‘board meeting,’ ” Godley said. “We can have bankers, insurance salesmen, lumber salesmen, contractors, dentists, doctors.”
A new book, “Surfing in South Carolina” by Lilla O’Brien Folsom and Foster Folsom, sketches the long history of surfing up and down the coast — the Grand Strand, Pawleys, Folly Beach and Hilton Head.
“Today, surfing has morphed into a family adventure,” they write. “Parents are footing the bill for surf camps and vacations that were unimaginable in the 1960s.”
Harry Bazemore tried to tell his parents surfing was good, clean fun that kept him in shape and out of trouble.
He thinks there’s something in the ions of the foam and breaking waves that gets you addicted to the surf.
Which leads him to his two top reasons parents should not worry about kids surfing.
“Number one, they’ll always be thinking about surfing and nothing else,” Bazemore said. “And, number two, they’ll always be thinking about surfing and nothing else.”
THE LOW COUNTRY COAT In the early,1930s through the mid-1950s, southern outdoors-men, watermen and guides, hunted, fished and lived in the finest "outfitter grade" clothing ever made. These American-made garments were designed out of necessity and experience, not fashion or trends. They were "no frills", heavyweight and literally lasted for generations. Small American manufactures like Drybak Saf-T-Back DuxBak and American Field built garments that included hunting and field coats,"briar britches", watermen and extreme outdoor work coats, pants and "overalls".
In the 1950s, due to costs of materials and manufacturing, these garments disappeared from the shelves of outdoor outfitters, hardware stores, and sporting goods retailers, only to be replaced by man-made materials and production run imported clothing. The standard fabric for these garments was a double thickness, 100% cotton canvas "Southern Grown" cotton duck cloth. This heavy-weight tight woven fabric, primarily made for other uses [tents, sails,all weather tarps, etc.] derived its name from a duck stenciled on the original fabric imported from England and Scotland prior to floor and grist mills being converted to cotton duck mills to support the U.S. east Coast Clipper Ship Building business. Secondary materials like harness grade leather,suede, and solid brass were utilized to complete these "nothing to break--nothing to wear out" garments.
In the late 1960s, I acquired one of these original canvas duck coats actually made in the 1930s, by DuxBak. It quickly became my favorite garment. many referred to it as "my uniform"-- if I went, it went! In 2007 while attempting to replace my coat, I learned of there disappearance, there history and -- in the process-- the memories and stores from many about their grandfathers and great grandfathers canvass "bird hunting" coats. Having enjoyed my coat for so many years and not wanting to see this small part of Southern outdoors" lost I am proud to build and offer as Red Fish Brand Marsh & Field Clothing Outfitters, these same high durability and quality garments
Coosaw Island Briar Britches- Coosaw Island is one of over sixty eight "large islands" that lie off the coast of Beaufort, South Carolina. These islands, plus many more small islands, form the Sea Islands of South Carolina, extending from the Savannah River Delta over one hundred miles to the Savannah River. Coosaw is located to the north of St. Helena Island and the Morgan River; to the east of Lady's Island and Lucy Creek; to the west of Morgan Island and the Atlantic Ocean and to the south of the Coosaw River and the mouth of the Combahee River and South Carolina's Ace Basin. In the early 1970s Coosaw Island became my favorite "play ground". Coastal development had not reached Beaufort County and Coosaw was forgotten by most. Mostly inhabited by an abundance of wildlife of every low country size and shape. "Wild Bird" quail coveys could still be "kicked up", dove flew from what seemed every direction and yearly high tides pushed Marsh hens out of the grass by the dozens. Because of its closeness to the Atlantic Coosaw's tidal creeks and marsh system hosted some of the finest Red Fish and Flounder flats anywhere! The Fishing Deck on the Coosaw River Bridge was the best Winter Trout spot in the Low Country. Growing up in Beaufort I enjoyed many days on Coosaw bird hunting, fishing from the bridge, shrimping, digging oysters or just exploring what washed up with the next tide.
Hilton Head Island Marsh & Field Coat- In the late 1800s, with the loss of all "Sea Island" long staple cotton and coastal South Carolina almost forgotten, many plantations and barrier islands along with thousands of acres in the Low-country and Georgia were purchased and turned into the finest hunting preserves, plantations, clubs and lodges in the world. Hobcaw Barony, Spring Island, Palmetto Bluff, Pinckney Island, Hilton Head Island, and Georgia's Cabin Bluff were only a few of the large Sea Island tracts purchased for these private island retreats. From the late 1890s through the 1950s Hilton Head Island provided the "best of the best" southern hunting and outdoor adventures on the entire east coast. The Clydes, Hunleys,Thornes, and Lomises built, maintained and staffed hunt clubs and lodges on a large portion of the island. The Beaufort Hunting Club, The North Carolina Hunting Club and The Hilton Head Island Agricultural Club were three of the most well known of the times. These clubs and lodges provided "overseers" gamekeepers, guides, dog handlers,and cooks. Stables were built for small coastal horses called Marsh Tackies. They were sure footed animals, perfect for mounted hunts and to pull hunting wagons and carts. The Island was a natural game preserve! Scrub Oaks, Long Leaf Yellow Pines and Palmetto trees provided shelter for abundance of deer and turkey. Undeveloped fields offered cover and food for quail and dove. One game keepers journal recorded 264 wild quail coveys on a days hunt. The Island's tidal creeks and marshes provided marsh hens, by the hundreds, on "full-moon tides" and rice was grown in fresh waterways for duck and geese on southern migrations. Wild Hogs were also abundant island wide and provided great sport and excellent table fare! For many years hundreds of sportsmen from the world over enjoyed the natural beauty,coastal climate and wildlife on Hilton Head Island. A noted Pinckney Island guest was quoted as saying, "wildlife abounds as does serenity and piece of mind". Although Hilton Head Island now has a different face and identity its Hunting Heritage will always be a part of Southern history.
Caines Brothers Snakey-Neck Mallard Decoy Buckle-The Caines brothers, Hucks, Sawney, Ball, Bob and Pluty were low-country watermen on and around Winyah Bay, near Georgetown, South Carolina. They cultivated and harvested rice, built boats,worked as commercial fishermen and oystermen,made and sold moonshine and gunned ducks in the Sampit, Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers for markets in Charleston, Greenville,and Raleigh N.C. The Caines brothers, by necessity, lived hard. They lived and existed off the land and out of the water. They worked hard to provided for their low country families.
Between 1905 and 1907 Bernard M. Baruch, a native South Carolinian, Wall Street Financier and adviser to the United States Presidents, purchased Hobcaw Plantation as a winter hunting retreat. At that time Hobcaw Barony covered approximately 17,500 acres of land located between the Winyah Bay and the Atlantic ocean. (The word Hobcaw is an early Indian name meaning the land between the waters) Bernard Baruch recognized the watermen and gunning skills of the Caines brothers and hired them to be hunting guides and fishing guides for Hobcaw Barony. The brothers guided duck, turkey, wild hog and deer hunting trips for presidents, governors, statesmen and dignitaries from all over the world. Grover Cleveland, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were all guest of Barnard Baruch at Hobcaw. According to Baruch they enjoyed the finest hunting anywhere! The Caines Brothers carved and shot over their own hand carved and painted duck decoys at Hobcaw Barony. It was said that the brothers were as daring with there carvings as they were with there life style! There decoys were carved, finished and painted by hand to the very best and finest of every minute detail. The Caines brothers made their decoys larger than the ones made by Cobbs, Hudsons, and Crowells. The larger size made them more visible to high flying ducks over Winyah Bay. It is estimated that the Caines carved approx. 550 decoys while working as guides at Hobcaw Barony. Only about 50 known examples still exist today, Because of the very limited numbers Caines Brothers decoys are rarely sold privately or at auction houses dealing in Folk Art. In 1992, at an important American Waterfowl Decoys Auction in Maine, a Caines' preening mallard drake decoy sold for 165,000.00, with in minutes its' mate , a snakey-neck mallard sold for 92,000.00. Today the grandsons of Hucks Caines, Jerry and Roy Caines, continue the legacy of decoy carving in their home town of Georgetown, S. C. Their decoys are considered among the finest works of our times.Their decoys won several top awards at the Ward Brothers World Championships Wildfowl Carving Competition and Festival in Ocean City , Maryland. Their decoys are admired and appreciated by waterfowl collectors all along the east coast.