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Jun 1, 2024

Surf Gods with Dad Bods

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

Come shred the gnar with the young beach bums who have matured into the island’s second wave of surfers.

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Fatherhood and surfing have a lot in common.

For one thing, neither is ever something you truly do on your own time. More than your own schedule, the waves decide when surf’s up. It’s their rhythm, crashing in an eternal cadence against the shore, and we are merely floating along on it as best we can. 

A Day at the Beach Catching Waves near Jacana  Pictured from left to right:  Nate Jr. and Nathan Skager, Palmer Pritchard, Brian Kinard, Jevon Daly, Byron Sewell, Cody and Chris Hughes 

Likewise, fatherhood never happens on your own time. From the beginning, whether a man is planning on it or not, it comes when the child decides it’s time. And when that child arrives, looking to its father for guidance, they rarely ask for help at the most convenient times. Usually, they wait until you’re in the bathroom, in the middle of fixing something, or until they hear the “hike” before a crucial third-down situation.

From there, in both surfing and fatherhood, it’s a matter of catching the wave when the time is right. You get one chance to drop in before that wave is gone forever, and you have only so long with children before they’re off living their own life. You catch your wave, or it’s gone forever.

Jevon Daly makes it look easy on a windy day at the beach. 

That singular instant, a lifetime of memories created from the most transient of moments, is what truly defines both fatherhood and surfing. 

But what they truly share, as these surfing dads will attest, is that they’re both incredibly fun.

Palmer Pritchard catches a wave with the help of Nate Skager and rides it in.

“I’ve got photos of my son at two days old, fresh out of Hilton Head Hospital, and I stuck his toe in the ocean. It was his indoctrination into salt water,” said local surfer Jesse Cadman. Raised in Pacifica, California, Cadman started surfing at the age of 5. 

When he moved to Hilton Head Island just before his freshman year of high school, Cadman found himself in the middle of a tight-knit surfing community. Naturally, it was something he wanted his son, JD, to experience for himself. 

“He’s a typical island boy now. I swear the kid’s part fish,” Cadman said. “It’s really cool seeing him discovering all of this and seeing it through his eyes.”

Nate Skager and Byron Sewell, local surf instructors for the Island Rec Center and Palmetto Dunes, spend an afternoon at the beach helping our little models catch the waves. 

Like so many of the island’s young surfers in those days, Cadman grew up in the orbit of the Sewell family. Hamp Sewell was already a surfing legend and East Coast champion when he and his wife, Sis, moved here in 1971. The couple started Kindred Spirits, a children’s multi-faceted education program, which included surfing lessons. Like this latest generation of dads, Hamp’s greatest protégé was his own son, Byron.

“I started when I was 3 and my dad was one of the first surfers here,” said Byron. “It’s crazy to me to see the generations growing up. It’s such a wild gift.”

Byron jumps off of his board into the surf. 

That legacy Hamp Sewell created lives on not only through Byron, who began teaching at Kindred Spirits in 1990, and through the countless island kids who grew up surfing thanks to Hamp, but through the islanders who are passing that love along to the next generation. 

Nate Skager, who leads surf lessons for young students at Island Rec Center, said when he arrived on the island in 2004, he didn’t find surfing instruction available for locals. So he started giving lessons at Burke’s Beach. 

Jevon Daly clowns around with Clementine and Cash Kinard

“I would get 23 to 25 kids. It was crazy, and I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Skager said. “But we worked it out and it got better and better.”

Along with the kids he teaches to appreciate our waves, Skager is sharing his love of the sport with his kids Amelia, 12, and Nate Jr., 9.

Jesse Cadman and his son Jesse Dakota head out for a sunset surfing adventure

“We started when they were 3 years old, boogey boarding a lot together,” Skager said. “I would just kind of sandwich the kid between board and my chest and we’d cruise down the waves together. Then, I’d put them on the nose of my longboard in their swimmies and stay on my belly. Now they’re paddling themselves out.”

Chris Hughes, who runs the Hilton Head Surf Report on Instagram, is one of those generations who grew up surfing on the island, looking up to guys like Byron Sewell and learning at their feet. 

“We all looked up to Byron; he was the state champion,” Hughes said.  

Harry smiles for the camera

Like so many of his contemporaries, Hughes has introduced his own son to the island’s surfing scene. Born in 2005, young Cody was surfing by age 3. It didn’t take long for this natural talent to hang ten over his own dad. 

“He’s surpassed me in terms of waves he’ll surf,” Hughes said. Since Cody turned 11, he and his dad have been traveling the globe to find the best surfing spots, from Mexico to Montauk. It was on one of those trips this past November that Hughes realized the student had become the teacher. “There was this one wave where me and Byron didn’t paddle out, but he did. … It was definitely a point I realized he has less fear than I do.” 

Nate helps his son catch a ride into shore. 

Local surfer Brian Kinard grew up roping steer in Texas until he traded in his boots for flip flops when he moved to Key West in the 1990s. He got bit by the surfing bug during a three-week trip to Costa Rica and has been riding the waves ever since. These days, he’s taking his children, Clementine, 6, and Cash, 4, along for the ride.

“They have little soft-top boards I bought last summer for them to learn on. I was pushing them into waves last year, and they’re already asking to go back this year,” Kinard said. “I don’t know that I have the next Kelly Slater on my hands, but they’re enjoying the water and the camaraderie of friends on the beach. It’s all about having fun, making connections with mother nature and their friends.”

And that environment, one where the community helps each other out through the choppy waters of surfing and fatherhood, is what truly sets Hilton Head Island apart.

“We have a really cool surf scene. Some areas can be very aggro,” Hughes said. “The environment and the vibe and the water around here is the complete opposite of that. It’s Southern hospitality on the water. Everyone’s pushing each other on. And Byron is the total stoke guy.”

As the stoke guy, Sewell carries on the tradition started by his father.

“I never had my own kids,” he said, “but I always felt like I had hundreds.”  

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