It's now become the largest surf contest for 18 and under participants in the state, but the D.J. McKevlin Gromfest started long ago on little more than a whim and a prayer.
Nancy Hussey former ESA director for the Southern South Carolina district had come up with a new plan for their yearly slate of competitions. Why not have sponsors for each event? They could help with some of the volunteer positions and bring their own supporters and style along for the ride. When she asked Tim McKevlin of McKevlin's Surf Shop which contest he'd like to help with, his answer came quickly - we want the KID'S contest!!! "I don't know if we can get a lot of kids out for the contest, but we'll try." Nancy immediately added, "Let's name it after your dad!"
The deal was sealed, and the D.J. McKevlin Gromfest was born. Few now realize that the contest's namesake may be one of the reasons why surfing has flourished for so long in our area.
Aside from opening the longest established surf shop in South Carolina, Dennis McKevlin was Folly Council's "Agitator in Chief" during the late 60's and throughout the 70's. Then, when surfing was frowned upon by the Folly Beach politicals, and surfers were unjustly forced away from the best surfing areas, Mr. Mac began attending Folly Beach Council meetings. There he spoke up for the surfers and reported back to them and their parents and the media about the unwarranted accusations and the bigotry that he saw and heard. Frustrated with the system, he eventually decided to run for office as a Folly Council member. He was overwhelmingly elected and remained on Council for 10 years - until his retirement.
While on Council he ran into brick wall after brick wall. More often than not, he cast the lone dissenting vote against a Council determined to cast surfers off the island. Finally, with the help of countless surfers, parents, and others, the issue was taken to the S.C. Supreme Court in 1976 where Folly Beach officials settled with the surfers and allowed them to surf.
So, at its roots, the Gromfest is about kids and their freedom to surf. For one weekend of the year, the best surf spot in South Carolina, the Washout, is dedicated to only the youngest surfers. They're given the "keys to the peak" and allowed to have "their day" - all to themselves.
Since its inception, the D.J. McKevlin Gromfest has grown in many ways. The earliest events were small but still fun. Gradually, the contest brought more young people into the local ESA district to the point where we can now boast some of the largest younger divisions in the Mid-Atlantic region. The benefits for the participants have also increased. Now, in addition to McKevlin's Surf Shop, this year's event includes 12 other sponsors who have donated prizes for all the finalists. Plus, the top 3 in all 10 divisions is awarded a trophy. Every competitor also gets a Competitor's T-Shirt and an equal chance at winning a brand new McKevlin's Surfboard, regardless of how they place in the contest.
In the end, however, it's the final 15 minutes of every Gromfest that usually contain the event's real highlight. This is when the Push 'n' Surf division is held. The absolute youngest surfers, some just scratching at 4 years old and some standing on a board for the first time, are assisted by a parent, sibling, or friend. The assistant guides them out to the break and carefully helps by "pushing" the board and mini-surfer into a wave. The grom's family as well as the entire beach of spectators erupt into a roar of cheers and applause encouraging and rewarding the new star! This division is absolutely free, and all the participants are awarded prizes (in addition to cheers).
The 2018 D.J. Gromfest is scheduled for July 7 & 8.