"Go Because You Can" - that mantra actually originated from Seattle resident Troy Nebeker who did a round the clock 24 hour paddle relay back in 2015 with five friends to raise money for others in their community who were battling cancer. That single event grew over the years into a global effort. That quote refers to celebrating gratitude for being healthy by giving back to others who are not as fortunate.

"Go Because You Can" can have another meaning. Hurricane Ian got me thinking about that quote. Is there a bad time to go out into the windy and wave driven conditions that tropical storms and hurricanes produce? Is there guilt in going out when others have sustained storm damage from the same storm you're enjoying?

Perhaps you shouldn't go out if you're putting others in danger (EMT, Fire/Rescue, bystanders) or if the storm just passed and there is a great deal of damage in the area. Going out in conditions that are above your skill level is obviously not a good idea. It puts you and others in danger. There's definitely no shame in sitting it out if you don't have the experience or you're not comfortable in rough conditions. But if you have the skills for rough conditions, and it isn't total victory at sea and the storm isn't on top of you, then you should go!

By Thursday September 29th, we were aware of the massive destruction in SW Florida. Charlestonians know what its like. 1989's Hurricane Hugo is still on everyone's minds any time a hurricane spins up in the Atlantic and goes through the Caribbean. We've had a lot of flooding and damage from other storms since then. At that moment on Thursday, there was nothing we could physically do. There is a lot that can be done, in various ways, in the near and far future to help those in need in areas hurt by the storm's wrath.

The next day, Friday September 30th, Hurricane Ian arrived here as a Category 1 storm. We were fortunate the storm moved by us offshore and made landfall north of us. That path and the offshore winds kept the expected storm surge at bay. Power was lost in many areas. There was relatively minor flooding and relatively minor damage from fallen trees. It could have been a lot worse. Unfortunately, our neighbors north of us at Pawley's Island and the Grand Strand sustained more of the storm's fury and damage. By Saturday morning, the sound of chainsaws and leaf blowers were heard everywhere as everyone was beginning to remove debris and clean up their yards. And true to Charleston ocean athlete form, some took advantage of the clean up surf conditions.

So yeah....Go. Go because you can. Go with grace and humility. Go because you have the good fortune at that moment to take advantage of the conditions. Go because you never know when you won't be able to get out there.

And that's exactly what many local Charleston ocean athletes did the day before Hurricane Ian arrived in our area. There was action at all the beaches and in the harbor. I was able to capture some of the action in photos and video in the harbor off James Island's Melton Peter Demetre Park (formerly called Sunrise Park as some still call it) and at the north end of Folly Beach.

The NE wind was approximately 25-30 mph, gusting up to 35-40 mph during the time I was out there with the camera. The overhead set waves at the north end of Folly were forming nicely on the outside and inside breaks in the side-off conditions.

John Cutter (wing foiling) and David Buckley (windsurf foiling) were commanding the harbor while Morne Diedericks (kitesurf), James Corgill (kitesurf), Scott Hyland (kitesurf), and Noah Zittrer (wing foil), among others, were commanding the north end of Folly Beach.

I hope you enjoy these photos. If you haven't already, check out the Instagram Reel video I posted late last week. I plan to do a longer video edit soon, so stay tuned.

John Cutter

David Buckley

Noah Zittrer

David Buckley

James Corgill

Scott Hyland

Noah Zittrer

Morne Diedericks

James Corgill

Scott Hyland

John Cutter

written & photos by Mac Barnhardt

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Are you looking to enjoy the Lowcountry waterways from a different perspective, get exercise, make new friends, be a part of a team, and give back? Look no further than the Charleston Paddle Club. They are a local non-profit group (501(c)3) located in Charleston, South Carolina. The organization is passionate about paddle sports, physical fitness, fun, and keeping the waterways clean.

Whether you are a paddling beginner or are an experienced paddler, the Charleston Paddle Club (CPC) encourages you to come out. Located at Brittlebank Park along the Ashley River and next to Bristol Marina, the CPC welcomes members of all ages and skill levels, emphasizes fun, and loves introducing people to new paddle sports while enjoying the beautiful Charleston waterways. It is a wonderful way to get in great shape and make new friends.

CPC has regular events that include weekly dragon boat practices, outrigger canoeing, and different social and volunteer events during the year. The dragon boat team, the Charleston Firebreathers, has competed nationally and internationally. Some club members have competed internationally with Team USA. Club members also compete regionally, nationally, and internationally in outrigger canoe events individually, or as part of a crew. This is truly one of the few team sports where a winning team can include people of all genders, ages and sizes.

If you’re a beginner, CPC will teach you basic paddling form, as well as on-water safety and commands. You can join them for up to 3 paddle sessions (and unlimited social events) before you’ll be asked to pay club dues. These dues help towards operating and maintenance costs, equipment purchases, training opportunities and facilities for the members. Once you’re a CPC member, you can sign up for any team paddle or regular club session that matches your skill level. You’ll get access to all dragon boat practices and six-person outrigger canoe (OC6) outings that match your fitness and skills level, opportunities to race competitively, and invitations to all team social events. As a non-profit, they also participate in keeping the waterways clean.

What is dragon boating? Dragon boats are large canoe-like vessels, manned by up to 20 paddlers (in a standard size boat) that sit in pairs and facing the bow along the length of the boat. The paddlers race the boat various distances using single bladed paddles. Dragon boats are typically fitted with ornate wooden carved dragon heads and tails. The sport originated in southern China over 2,000 years ago.

What is outrigger canoeing? Outrigger canoeing is a sport of the canoeing discipline. The boats have a lateral float called outrigger (also called ama) fastened to the hull with two booms (also called iokos) that provide stability for racing in various water conditions and for surfing ocean swell and waves. Single bladed paddles are used. The type of outrigger canoe is dependent on the number of paddlers. There are typically six-person canoes (OC6), two-person canoes (OC2), and one-person canoes (OC1). OC1’s and OC2’s canoes have rudders. The OC6, which has 6 paddlers, has a manual steersman in seat 6. Outrigger canoeing originated with Polynesian and Austronesian explorers thousands of years ago. It was integral to ancient Hawaiian culture and is popular in the Tahitian and Hawaiian islands.

When was the club founded and by whom? I sat down with club president Steve Connor and club vice-president Billy Lempesis to find out.

CPC was founded in 2010 by Steve Connor, Pete Lempesis, Jamie Muehl, William Dionl, Roger Jones, Billy Lempesis, and Tharin Walker. Its roots began a couple of years earlier with Dragon Boat Charleston, a club that already existed. Dragon Boat Charleston was primarily a cancer survivor group. Billy remarked that “my first coach was Dr. Cindy Carter who went to Canada and attended a study about how paddling was beneficial to women breast cancer survivors. She came back, got a grant through MUSC and started Dragon Boat Charleston. Their first festival was huge and my company put together two corporate teams to compete”

Billy continued “I said this is fun. I’m not surfing any longer but with older age, paddling seems to really be good for you. We competed under Dragon Boat Charleston for a couple of years. We won the Nationals and we qualified for the Worlds. My son Pete Lempesis and Jamie Muehl progressed as paddlers and we decided to form a premiere team and in the next year, became very successful. We had a Canadian coach, named Pat Barker, that had been coaching our Dragon Boat Charleston team. She introduced Pete and I to outrigger paddling. I’d never heard of it. We started researching it and Pete got really excited about it. Pete decided, out of nowhere, to go buy an OC6 (six-person outrigger canoe). That was 2010. We didn’t know how to set the thing up. At that point, we decided we wanted to do multiple types of paddling and be competitive. Thus, Charleston Paddle Company was born.”

I pressed both Steve and Billy about sharing some stories from the early history of the club. Billy recalled “our first OC6 outrigger race was at Treasure Island, outside of Tampa, Florida. We only had five OC paddles and had to use a dragon boat paddle to make it six paddles. The back of the boat was facing forward so we set up the ama on the right side instead of the traditional left side. The other canoe crews on the water were yelling at us and said you might want to change around and head the right direction. So we jumped out of the boat and swapped seats. We were ill equipped. Ran our first race there not knowing what the hell we were doing. And by the way, we got third. It was an evolutionary process. We had no coaching. We had to learn by video how to tie the iakos to the ama with the old-fashioned rope.”

Steve Connor recollected a funny story from that time, “this was Billy’s early days of steering (the dragon boat) and he was also coaching us. He had the boat lined up and we’re ready to go. We push off (the dock) a little bit and he says go! We went about three feet and there was a sudden recoil.” Billy chimed in “I forgot to take the stern line off. Next thing I know, my ass was upside down in the air off the back of the boat. All my crew, instead of being concerned, they all laughed their asses off!”, as both Billy and Steve chuckled at that memory.

Billy said “In 2012, we changed our name from Charleston Paddle Company to Charleston Paddle Club. It became clear that ‘Company’ sounded more like a business. Through the guidance of Roger Jones and Steve Connor the club became a non-profit.”

Billy recalled “Mike Owens had the first outrigger canoes in Charleston. He was actually making OC1s on the local Navy base. He was doing the old technique where you did half molds and put the layered fiberglass down and the gelcoat and pressed them together. He constructed an OC6 from two old canoes. It weighed over 600lbs. This was the first OC6 we used. Then Pete bought a Bradley Lightening from a club in Florida that weighed 350 lbs and we used that OC6 for six years. Currently the club has two new Ultralight Puakea’s (OC6) that weigh only 175lbs each.”

Billy continued, “the competitions are amazing. Our Dragon Boat crew, the Firebreathers, was very successful. For three years, the crew medaled in every race we participated in from Virginia to Florida. Two of those years, we won all Gold medals. Pete, Jamie and I made Team USA in 2012, and competed in the World Championships in Milan, Italy. Our crew member Robert Hess made it two years later. Jess Key has made the National Team several times. Club member Andy McMarlen, a local sports medicine physician and non-surgical orthopedic specialist, was an Olympic Rower qualifier for the Atlanta Olympics. Andy is one of the most decorated Dragon Boat paddlers in the United States. He is also an avid Outrigger and Surf Ski paddler. All the while, the Firebreathers crew continued to be successful.”

Steve remarked that the club used to be more “board driven”, but are “working to be more member driven, so if you want to go do a race in Wilmington, we’ll support you.” Billy added “you can take it as far as you want to take it with our club. You want to make the National team? We have the people here who can show you how to do that. You just want to have fun? That’s even better!”

If you’re looking for something new and different in getting outside and getting close to the water, getting exercise, and being part of a community, go check out Charleston Paddle Club at charlestonpaddleclub.com. You can also help the Charleston Paddle Club by making them the charity of your choice when making purchases on Amazon. They are now on Amazon Smile. They also accept donations through Venmo, PayPal, cash or check, and can also invoice you to pay through credit/debit card.

written by Mac Barnhardt

photos provided by Billy Lempesis

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Updated: Aug 25

"Sick” was Chad Davis’s text reply when I told him I was almost there. Having met Chad before and knowing his affable personality, I read it and laughed aloud. We sat down at the Mex1 in West Ashley right across from the new location of his Carolina Surf Brand shop on a hot and sweaty summer afternoon. He had texted me to say he had gotten us a table since the bar was packed. In true Chad fashion, he added “Blue shirt, Bald head. Haha.” The waitress, who of course Chad knew, came for our order. Chad dutifully didn’t order alcohol since he had to go work at his shop later. Being at Mex1, I had their pineapple and habanero margarita on the brain. “Large or regular?” asked the kind waitress. “Large. Do it!” said Chad, guilting me into ordering the large. I ordered the large. That’s how you spread the stoke…Chad Davis style.

Chad is the co-creator and owner of both the Carolina Surf Brand and the Carolina Surf Film Festival. The Carolina Surf Film Festival was first in 2014, co-created by Chad, and his college friends Chuck Gainey and Bo Edmonds. They made T-shirts for the event that today still has the same original and familiar Poseidon trident-like and ocean inspired logo they came up with back then. By the second night of the three night festival, all the shirts had sold out. Chad explained “That first year, we were surprised that anybody showed up. People showed up in droves. It was insane. We were blown away.” They were beginning to be recognized around town as the guys who put on the surfing film festival and everyone wanted their swag. “The light bulb went on then” says Chad regarding the fact that he and his partners clearly knew they had something special.

Chad drew on his experience of helping to run a clothing company when he lived in San Diego, as well as doing marketing and media for Maverick Records and Warner Brothers Records in Los Angeles, so he had some experience. So, they thought “let’s make a couple T-shirts like we just made but what are we going to call it?” Chad, Chuck, and Bo sat at the Surf Bar in Folly Beach trying to come up with a name. Finally they just agreed that Carolina Surf Brand was appropriate. Chad says “it describes exactly what we love. We love the Carolinas, we love to surf, and it’s a brand. It’s a lifestyle. It fits”. The Carolina Surf Brand was born. They kept doing the surfing film festivals as both that and the brand were part time for all three of them in the beginning, with Chad still working as a music supervisor at the time. Chad eventually left the music industry and started to get serious about the brand and the festival. Late in 2018, Bo and Chuck pursued their other careers and Chad became the sole owner.

photo by Paul Mulkey Sr

Chad is a surfer through and through. He grew up in Charleston and remembers the old heavy board his Dad first put him on. Cringing, he says the roughed-up fiberglass surface was like a cheese grater that took away some skin in those early days. Then his family moved away when he was ten years old to Murfreesboro, TN then Bowling Green, KY. Thankfully, his mom had the will and the fortitude to make sure they spent their summers in Charleston or the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The surfing continued.

He moved back to Charleston for college and remembers surfing locally at the Charleston area beaches when “there was nobody here. So accessible at that time, probably a quarter of the people there are now. It was not a big deal to find a parking spot. The surf shops had big followings and giant surf teams of the legends like Rick Tanner, Glenn Hansen, Ricky Jones and all these guys that were stalwarts at the Washout. You did not surf the Washout unless you were a ripper. You might get punched back in the day when we had corporal punishment. And it worked. It’s more crowded now which is good for the sport in a way because it opens it up to so many people but people just need to educate themselves.” It’s worth noting that Chad and his shop staff try to politely educate people who come into his shop to buy a surfboard, particularly getting them on the right board for their abilities and the conditions they normally surf in.

photo by Lindsey Graham

There was the “secret” semester he spent surfing in Costa Rica unbeknownst to his parents. With apologies to them after the fact and tail between his legs, it was back to Charleston to complete school. Then Chad was off to Los Angeles for five years in the late nineties and then onto San Diego in the early 2000’s. The surfing in southern California “was so fun but so crowded. The pluses and minuses…the pluses are pretty good…perfect weather, perfect surf”. Chad recalls one of his first surf sessions in Southern California with some local friends. They pulled up to the first place and it was about chest high and peeling down the line. His local California friends “were like let’s go check somewhere else”. “What are you talking about!?” Chad said incredulously as he had already put on his wetsuit, then proclaimed he was paddling out right there. “Ok, we’ll watch you and see if it’s worth it” his friends said. Chad immediately caught and surfed three nice waves. His friends paddled out real fast and told Chad they couldn’t believe he could surf so fast on those little waves. “You haven’t seen little waves, brother”. Chad added “the whole east coast gives you an advantage. It makes you hungry”. This led to us talking about some of the most famous east coast born surfers such as Kelly Slater, the Hobgood Brothers, Ben Bourgeois, and Cam Richards...and how surfing small east coast waves when they were growing up at least partially contributed to their success.

“East coasters don’t quit surfing, west coasters quit surfing” Chad said, then adding that he had met some middle age California surfers who had quit surfing and had whole garages full of surfboards. “It just blew me away. How the hell do you live right across from an amazing surf break in San Diego. How do you look at that every day? A lot of guys do that. A lot of guys always said they surfed and I’m always like I’ll believe it when I see it”. There was a neighbor who Chad had never seen surfing before but he talked about being a ripper. Then one day he said he would paddle out with Chad. He went into his garage full of boards, finally pulling out an old yellow board with a dangling fin, creating more doubt in Chad’s mind. They paddled out and “he was the best surfer out of all of us by far. He probably hasn’t surfed since”, Chad laughed. “You grow up with that wave and you have no idea what you have in your own back yard. We grow up with this wave (referring to our east coast waves) and we think it’s the best thing in the world.” Chad added later, “this (Charleston) is an outdoor paradise that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention”.

photo by James McGavik

Chad moved back to the Charleston area for several years, surfing whenever he could. He and his wife recently moved to Wilmington to be closer to her family and his own father and brother, who all live in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina. He’s been surfing there a lot. He opened up the first Carolina Brand Surf retail store on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. The shop sells surfing and beach apparel, hats, women’s beach and surf-oriented jewelry, and surfboards. He then opened up the new retail store in West Ashley this past April. You can also shop on their website CarolinaSurfBrand.com. Their branded apparel can also be found in some other surf shops in the Carolinas. Strategically located next to the popular Turbo Cone ice cream shop and across the street from Mex1, I visited the new shop on St Andrews Boulevard in West Ashley. It was really nice and orderly, bright with beach ambience, easy on the eyes, and had a colorful and plentiful assortment of surf and beach apparel, hats, and surfboards…including a large women’s section. I found a cool moisture wicking hat I can wear out on the water.

Before the Carolina Surf Film Festival was created, as a music supervisor, Chad had worked on the soundtracks for Taylor Steele’s “Loose Change”, “Good Times”, and “Modern Collective”. He also did soundtrack work on Jack Johnson’s “Thicker Than Water” and “September Sessions”. In addition, he also worked on the soundtrack for the Johnny Decesare/Poor Boyz production of “The Windsurfing Movie”, which really excited me as I’m a long-time windsurfer and still have that DVD. He and I lamented how the surf film industry has evolved from the excitement of walking into your local surf shop to buy the latest VHS, then DVDs, to streaming on YouTube and other platforms, and now the emphasis on quick video hits on social media.

From left to right: Cody Carter, Kai Lenny, Johnny Decesare, and Chad Davis at the premiere of The Windsurfing Movie at Red Bull HQ

I asked Chad how surf films have changed over the years. “There’s not a lot of people making full length surf movies anymore. It’s a lot of shorts, a lot of five minuters. Which I love but the attention span of the normal person has changed since we grew up as kids”, Chad says. “It’s really whittled down to where you’re just getting the guys who are very professional at it and have really good backers. Like Patagonia, Yeti and the Malloy Brothers.” He added, “the local filmmakers have gotten kind of scarce. We showed Ronan Lurkin’s movie last year and it was really good. And that’s really the only local one we’ve had in a while.” I take that as a hint to all you local aspiring surf filmmakers out there to make some more surf movies.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that people enjoy the escape and watching what other surfers are doing around the world. The Carolina Surf Film Festival is still very popular. A small panel of friends review and pare down the list of films to be shown at the festival. Chad also reaches out to filmmakers to get their films included. The Carolina Surf Film Festival is now one night here in Charleston. Mex1 just announced it will be held at their West Ashley location on Saturday, October 15th. Another night has been added in Wilmington, NC and there are discussions to also add one in Myrtle Beach, both also in October.

Chad gets it. The Carolina Surf Brand website says “We're proud to be the underdogs on the east coast. It requires dedication and grit to be a surfer here. It's flat, it's cold, it's windy... in short, it's imperfect. The dirty south is also a hidden gem — it's warm, it's blue, it's tight. Carolina Surf Brand celebrates all of the above.” It’s apparent that people like Chad are the ones who spread the stoke on a local level. It’s critical now more than ever to support local businesses. Forget the online catalogs and the big box retail chains. In the spirit of supporting our local shops, go pay a visit to the Carolina Surf Brand shop in West Ashley or Carolina Beach, check out their website, follow them on social media, and take in the upcoming Carolina Surf Film Festivals in October.

photo by Mac Barnhardt

Chad offered, “My philosophy is just do it. If you put your heart into it, it’s going to work. If you put your heart and soul into something and you don’t falter away from what you know, I feel like you’re going to succeed. I love my job. You can’t beat that.”

Carolina Surf Brand shop locations:

828 St Andrews Blvd #200

Charleston, SC 29407

11 Pavilion Ave S Unit 2

Carolina Beach, NC 28428

Follow Carolina Surf Brand on Instagram and FaceBook. And check out their website CarolinaSurfBrand.com, where you can also get more information on the Carolina Surf Film Festival.

written by Mac Barnhardt

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