Sep 28 2014

Folly Favorite: McKevlin’s Surf Shop

McKevlin’s Surf Shop

Folly Beach is a popular destination for many local surfers, but it wasn’t always that way.  Years ago, the sport was considered to be strange and unpopular with the mainstream crowd.  Surfers were shunned, and they were considered bums who weren’t interested in working for a living.  That frame of mind continued for quite some time, but a local fanatic decided to do something to change society’s outlook on the people who thrived in the sport and the surfing itself.  That man was was Dennis McKevlin, owner of McKevlin’s Surf Shop.  The shop is one of the oldest stores catering to surfers on the East Coast.

McKevlin opened the store with his oldest son, Ted, during the mid-60’s in a small 9’x30’ room.  He carried only 9’ boards and bought huge blocks of paraffin wax from local stores.  Whittling them into smaller individual blocks and selling them to local surfers, the wax was to become the predecessor for many variants of board wax present in the shop today.  McKevlin cared deeply for his surfing community and catered to even their smallest needs.  Rising early each morning, McKevlin would make cheese sandwiches, wrap them up and sell them to his eager and hungry customers.

The popularity of the store quickly drove them to move into a larger location at 4 Center Street.  The location, now inhabited by portions of Rita’s, allowed them to expand their products to include limited clothing, new traction sprays and fashionable jewelry worn by the beach crowd.  The popularity of the sport had increased so much by this time that the family expanded their brand into Sullivans Island and the Isle of Palms.  Unfortunately, the Sullivans Island store quickly closed, while the Isle of Palms location thrived in the late 60’s.  

It was around this time that Dennis McKevlin chose to enter the political arena.  Battling against people who held little to no respect for the surfing community, he fought his way into the City Council where he held a seat for for ten years.  During this time, he helped to expand surfer’s rights.  His transparency and willingness to go the extra mile for the surfing community garnered McKevlin a huge fan club.  The fight was taken all the way to Federal Court, and in 1976 the community got access to more surfing locations on the beach.  Later, the fight would continue with another son who fought to retain access to the Washout and also the pier.

By 1980, McKevlin’s younger son, Tim, took over the shop and expanded their brands to over 750 boards, increased their clothing lines to incorporate board shorts, wetsuits and other items that have become essential to the surfing community.  They eventually opened a new store in their current location at the end of Center Street in a building that now contains over 3300 sq ft of skateboards, surfboards, clothing lines, and an immense amount of gear.  They again expanded into a new market by opening a store in Mt Pleasant.  The Isle of Palms store, which had notoriously been without water and heat, was rebuilt into a larger and more open building that contained the lacking essentials.  

Tragedy struck the surf shops when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989.  Entire houses, and everything within them, had been swept out to sea.  The Isle of Palms store was similarly hit, and what little was left remaining was stolen by looters.  The Folly Beach location was not as badly damaged.  However, the roof was missing and continual downpours nearly ruined anything that was left behind.  

The McKevlins quickly gathered up everything they could and stored it in the Mt Pleasant building until they could come up with a plan to recoup their losses and rebuild.  Ultimately, the family chose to close all locations except the one in Folly Beach.  Their focus was to rebuild and refresh their store with thousands of items that eager surfers and skateboarders need to practice their adrenaline laced sports.  

Additionally, McKevlins also sponsors a surf team.  Members of the team must show dedication, and the elite group of individuals have all proven themselves through various competitions both in and outside of South Carolina.  The tight knit group works together to promote the culture and increase knowledge and appreciation of the sport to the general community.  Each competitor is chosen for his or her skills on the boards, as well as for their personality.  Being backed by McKevlin’s Surf Shop is, perhaps, one of the most prestigious honors an East Coast surfer can attain.

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