Updated: Aug 25, 2022
"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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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