The Top 5 Surf Spots in South Carolina
Updated: May 29, 2020
For the record, there IS surfing in South Carolina. We just don't get quite the fanfare, or the consistent swell, as our neighbors on the Outer Banks of North Carolina or the inlets of Florida. But as a born and raised South Carolina surfer, I know that we have some fantastic spots that produce, especially during hurricane season. The trick to surfing in South Carolina is knowing the right place to go, and when to go there. Here are five spots that are well known to those of us who grew up here, and worth a road trip when the waves turn on.
#1) The Washout - Folly Beach, SC
Folly Beach is a six-mile long barrier island that’s known for the most consistent waves in South Carolina. That said, a three-block stretch of shoreline called “The Washout” sticks out as the best surf spot on the island. While most of Folly’s waves are predominantly gentle, sloping lefts, the Washout also holds rights that pull through, barrel up, and provide a little something for everyone. You can expect pretty large crowds when there’s a wave over waist high, and, similar to most premium breaks, a little respect to the locals and surfers who have been at this spot their whole life goes a long way. (Hint: If you’re bringing a foamie, I suggest not paddling out into the middle of the pack.) The lower incoming tides break a little better; the wave is pretty fat and rolly at high tide, and not enough push at dead low. The wave here breaks a little more top to bottom, or “hollow” compared to other spots, which makes for a fun shortboard session. Knowledge of the wave and your ability will determine if you should pull out a shortboard that day or stick to a longboard. During the Spring and Fall we tend to see the best conditions; with Fall being the peak of hurricane season and Spring being more optimal than the Summer Doldrums. Wetsuits should be expected October through April, with quick transitions to skinning it once the water temp gets above 70 and the weather is sunny and high 70s.
#2) The Folly Beach Pier - Charleston, SC
While the Washout produces a typically more suitable shortboard wave, the FB Pier is a logger’s dream. Most days of the year you can find a group of longboarders catching the knee to thigh high waves that the pier churns out. This spot is reliable for a longer ride that crumbles as it goes to give longboarders the opportunity to cross step their way to the nose. You can find left peelers that are soft and beginner-friendly as long as you watch out for the pier pilings and fishermen above. The pier tends to be a longboard spot, but any decent swell or storm surf brings ample possibility for some stellar shortboard action. When the surf’s pumping, there’s bound to be larger crowds and even on average days there are still plenty of people in the water. Conditions here align with the Washout in the sense that we see the best waves in Spring and Fall, and wetsuits October through April. Winter still brings the opportunity to Folly and the SC coast, just make sure you’ve got a 4/3 and booties!
#3) Pawleys Island- Georgetown County, SC
Sandy bottom surf with mixed wind swell here and there, Pawleys is a different vibe than Charleston and Folly, mainly due to how uncrowded it is in comparison. Slightly out of the way, and a “low-key locals” type of town, Pawleys could be your perfect little surf getaway to escape the crowd. It’s possible to find both right and left small peelers when there’s a low-incoming tide at the pier, and a predominant right break at the south end. The pier at Pawleys is more consistent, while the south end tends to be fickle, needing certain wind and swell directions to really make a decent session. A full on south swell with light northeast wind will have the south end pumping at its best. Depending on what kind of swell the East Coast is seeing you could be on your high performance shortboard or a nice, 9’6" old-school log. Fall, Winter, and Spring with some storms pushing and without the flat of Summer brings the best surf to the Pawley’s coast.
#4) Cherry Grove Pier- North Myrtle Beach, SC
A typical South Carolina beach break right next to the pier. Some suggestions would be to read up on Myrtle Beach surfing rules and regulations so that you don’t find yourself too close to the pier and at odds with local law enforcement. A good time to be here is during a southeast swell with an offshore north-northeast wind. This spot tends to be less reliable than some of the others mentioned before, but still holds the possibility of some fun rides, whether it be on a fun shape or longboard. As most pier breaks go, there can tend to be a crowd when there’s a rideable wave; but no reason to not get out there and enjoy a few yourself. During the summer, southwest trade winds push and create afternoon shore breezes that make for a typical summertime wind swell that carries with it a fun and rideable punchy little wave. Keep your eye out for hurricane season and you should see some more swell hitting starting in August. The water can be found in the low 70s starting in April, and only gets warmer from there.
#5) Bulls Island - SC
Finally, we have Bulls Island, part of a wildlife refuge where there can be sizeable surf and all different types of flora and fauna. During an east to south swell the island can be found with glassy, clean waves and light winds. This surf spot is not for the beginner, with dangers coming from lack of knowledge of the area and strong currents with underlying trees and oyster beds possible in the lineup. The best access is by boat and that requires a captain comfortable and confident with the island, not for those of inexperienced marsh goers who are unaware of the relentless currents produced by the changing of the tide. Hurricane swells during the months of late August through November provide this island with the waves that SC loves to see. Predicting that you’re arriving here when the waves are good and the swell is pumping, it’s more likely you’ll be riding a shortboard where you can perform and drive down the line. Make sure to pack for the day and bring all the gear you’ll need - sunscreen, wetsuits, and plenty of water because once you’re there it’s an all-day trip!