It’s mid-July, the height of summer, and even though the Grand Strand has recently endured weather that would make Noah impatient, it’s the perfect time to brave the traffic and head to the beach.
You do remember the beach, right?
That strip of sand and water barely visible beyond the high rises?
Even though the Grand Strand owes its very existence to the beach, it’s easy for locals to sometimes forget it’s even there, especially if you live in Socastee, Carolina Forest or one of the other inland communities, as you get caught up in the daily grind of working, raising families and plain ol’ l-i-v-i-n’.
And tourists, believe it or not, can even get distracted from the sea and sand that brought them here in the first place.
What’s the cure?
Enter the inaugural Salt Games.
Steve Taylor, owner of local screen-printing giant Native Sons, has come up with a day-long event, set for Sunday in Plyler Park and on the nearby beachfront, as a way to remind locals and visitors alike that the beach and the lifestyle surrounding it is the lifeblood of Myrtle Beach.
The Salt Games will feature high-intensity sports performed in a fun-loving atmosphere, with plenty of live music, bikinis and beer mixed in for good measure, all within easy visual access of Mother Ocean.
A native son takes action
“I grew up in Myrtle Beach, have always loved the beach and felt like that was the primary reason people came here,” Taylor said. “All the other things offered around the Grand Strand are really appetizers for the beach, and I felt like there was a need to have an event that focused on and celebrated the beach lifestyle, and showcased some things that local people get to do on a regular basis. It seemed right because Native Sons has always had strong roots in the beach lifestyle, and if I’m going to do a promotion or an event, I’m going to do it on the beach.”
The Games are not Native Sons’ first foray into beach-based competition. The company sponsored the hugely popular Surf and Spike surfing and volleyball tournaments in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Taylor eventually wants to bring back Surf and Spike, but also wanted to try his hand at an event that encompassed more than just those two sports.
“People have been clamoring for something like this. I’m sure we’ll have a few bumps and bruises, but we hope to make it more of a festival next year and expand on it,” he said.
Part of the Salt Games’ goal is to bring a full-out festival atmosphere back to the oceanfront where Taylor and many others think it belongs. For 60 years, that responsibility belonged, of course, to the Sun Fun Festival, started in 1951 by the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce as a way to draw visitors to the beach.
For most of its existence, the Sun Fun Festival was held along the oceanfront in downtown Myrtle Beach during the first week of June, and drew hordes of people who participated in quirky events such as ice cream eating and watermelon-seed-spitting contests and human checkers, watched parades down Ocean Boulevard, and saw the (mostly) finer looking examples of South Carolina womanhood participate in the legendary Miss Bikini Wahine pageant. All things change and evolve, of course, and starting in 2009 the Festival moved inland to Grand Park at The Market Common, where it focused more heavily on concerts and celebrity appearances. Enthusiasm for the festival waned, however, and the Chamber of Commerce didn’t host the event in 2012, with many people saying the beach no longer needed a specific festival to draw people.
Taylor, of course, disagrees. He and other Salt Games organizers believe it’s prime time to bring some attention back to the beach lifestyle that made all the rest of the growth on the Grand Strand possible. Without the people who enjoy swimming in the waves and playing the occasional game of beach volleyball, he is saying, you wouldn’t have all the other things that make Myrtle Beach what it is.
The salt life
Where did the name come from, you ask? Because at first glance “Salt” doesn’t necessarily evoke summer or sports.
Think about it, though, and the word becomes more than just a condiment that’s not necessarily good for you. Salt, is of course, part of the phrase salt water, which is, of course, what makes up that big body of water just to our East.
And the word “Salt” in recent years has become trendy because of a company and a little slogan, “Salt Life.”
Salt Life is actually a clothing and lifestyle company started by four buddies in Jacksonville, Fla. around 2004 (www.saltlife.com). Ocean-lovers all, they wanted to start a business geared to the surf and shore lifestyle, but have become most famous for their “Salt Life” decals that have popped up on rear windows of cars, trucks, SUVS and minivans all over the East Coast and other parts of the country. (The company makes its own but there are, of course, also plenty of highly discouraged knockoffs.) Originally popular mainly with surfers and boaters, the logo has become the beach lover’s window-trend equivalent to the ubiquitous stick-figure family. Doesn’t matter if you’ve ever even stepped on a surfboard or know what a rip current is…if you have visited a beach anytime recently or just plain love the idea of sand between your toes, “Salt Life” has become the slogan for you.
Taylor decided to go with “Salt Games” for the event’s name because it was a way to piggyback on the “Salt Life” trend and come up with a moniker that evoked the fun of beach life. Plans for the event started in early April.
Amelia Diemer, marketing director for Native Sons, said the goal is for the Salt Games to become an annual event and eventually feature two or even three full days of events.
“Maybe in the future, we could move it more into the shoulder season when it’s not too crazy,” she said.
A variety of Salt
The Games will feature a little bit of everything for everyone, with the beach as the backdrop.
Feeling stressed out? Start the day with a group community yoga class near the boardwalk in Plyler Park, led by instructors from several different local yoga studios.
Competitive activities throughout the day include the Surf City paddleboard race, a two-man pro beach volleyball tournament, and a tug-of-war competition. For something a little bit different, there are the Crossfit Up Dog Summer Games, a high intensity fitness challenge. The beach wouldn’t be the beach without a little skin, so Club Rodeo is sponsoring a “bikini and boots” contest.
Kids ages 5-12 can take part in the Ripley’s Aquarium Shark Run, with a course leading from Plyler Park to 14th Avenue South and back, complete with some challenging but small-fry-friendly obstacles.
Spectators can also join in on some quirky games. Relax – intense athletic training isn’t required for these, although one of the games’ description specifies “twerking” skills might be helpful. (Confused? Check YouTube for some good, if slightly racy, instruction videos.)
Twerking might come in handy for the “Salt Shaker” challenge. Participants will have a box about the size of a Kleenex box attached to their waist with the opening facing outward. Six ping pong balls get placed in the box, and the goal is to maneuver one’s ba-donk-a-donk so effectively that all the balls fly out.
Everyone but the bald might enjoy the “Sea Salt Margarita Challenge,” which involves running to the water, dipping your hair in the waves and then attempting to squeeze enough water out of it to fill an entire margarita glass.
Taylor and other organizers are especially excited about the day’s feature event, the Lifeguard Games featuring lifeguards from six area beach services competing in a relay race and one-on-one drills on the beach. The lifeguard competition will feature all of the Myrtle Beach services, and is also open to any services in Horry County, including those from North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and the county beaches. Teams can include men and women lifeguards.
As the day wears on, entertainment includes fire dancers and a moonlight concert series featuring local bands Ten Toes Up and Jah Creation.
Proceeds from the Games will benefit the Grand Strand chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which works to keep the ocean and beaches clean and protect beach access from Little River to Pawleys Island.
The lifeguard competition, held from 6-8 p.m. Sunday will be one of the day’s flagship events, but other Salt Games competitions will give spectators a chance to see familiar and new sports, and learn that even the most challenging exercise program around can seem a little easier if it’s done near the beach.
Beach volleyball will always have a presence on area shores, simply because there’s nothing simpler than mapping out a court, throwing up a net and hitting the sand with some friends and a ball. Most of the volleyball folks get to see near the water, however, falls into the just-for-fun pick-up variety, often fueled by a few too many beers. But the Salt Games will offer spectators a chance to see high-level competition on the beach with the two-man volleyball tournament, featuring up to 20 semi-pro and a few professional teams from around the Carolinas and the central Atlantic Coast, said Myrtle Beach resident Matt Heath, who played on the professional beach volleyball tour for 10 years and has been active in the local scene for years. The winning team will receive $1,500 cash.
Heath sees the Salt Games as a prime opportunity to rejuvenate a local beach volleyball scene that peaked in the ‘80s and ‘90s but since has slacked off, with many players and competitions now based in Florida.
“It’s a great opportunity to get the sport back in the spotlight because we used to have a really rich tradition of tournaments around here,” Heath said. “The economy kind of kicked us to the wayside, but it’s a great chance to refocus everybody’s attention on the sport, which is perfect for this area. Beach volleyball is very much a lifestyle sport, focused on the fun and sun mentality. “
The tournament will include long-time players such as Charleston resident Jake Elliott, 37, who has played beach volleyball for 23 years and has competed at the pro level nationally and overseas.
Elliott competed in the old Native Sons tournaments and many others up and down the Strand, and said the Salt Games offers a welcome chance to hit the Myrtle Beach sands again for competition.
Elliott, an assistant volleyball coach at the College of Charleston, still travels and plays competitively. He said beach volleyball is well-worth watching because of the high level of athletic skill and speed involved. Many people, of course, have been attracted to the Olympic variety of the sport mainly because of the chance to watch attractive female athletes in uniforms that are, really, bikinis. While women’s teams won’t be featured in this year’s Salt Games, Elliott said it’s still worth it to check out the men because of the intensity demanded by the two-man set up.
“With indoor volleyball, which is six-on-six, players have to know the fundamentals of volleyball but they don’t have to be as skilled at every position,” he said. “When it’s only two on two you have to be able to serve, you have to be able to pass, you have to be good at almost everything.”
What’s kept Elliott in the sport for so long?
“There’s no roof over your head, you’re out there in the sun and on the beach, and who doesn’t want to go to the beach?” Elliott said. “Because of the sport I’ve been able to go to beaches all over the world, and that’s been a great thing to do.”
CrossFit Updog Competition
If you’re a gym rat who got tired of your old workout routine anytime in the past few years, you’ve likely heard of or been encouraged to try CrossFit. It’s a new approach in working out that features varied high-intensity movements in sessions that last about 20 minutes. CrossFit first emerged around 2000 and is currently offered in more than 4,400 gyms nationwide, according to information provided by Myrtle Beach’s Core Fitness. National Founder Greg Glassman described the workout scheme as “the sport of fitness.”
CrossFit devotees perform workouts posted daily on the CrossFit Web site. The sessions are called WODS (for Workouts of the Day). Members then post their daily results on the official CrossFit Web site. It’s a benign but effective way to stay accountable.
The program is scalable to work for all skill levels and age groups, said Steve Money, who is head coach of the CrossFit Up Dog program at Core Fitness. Exercises include everything from squats and weight lifting to rope climbs and interval training, and intensity level can vary according to each person’s skill or desired outcome.
The Salt Games will introduce CrossFit to the masses, with some of the area’s most serious devotees taking part in two hours’ worth of intense exercises and drills. Men and women will compete in four divisions at two levels: the “prescribed” event will feature more advanced events, while the scale division will include movements and weight levels more appropriate for new or intermediate CrossFit competitors.
Money is a lifelong athlete who said CrossFit is unlike anything else he’s tried.
“I’ve always been into sports and played pretty much every sport growing up, and two years ago somebody invited me to come in and try CrossFit, and it pretty much grabbed me like nothing else has ever grabbed me before,” Money said. “It works at two levels. If you’re somebody who used to compete at sports, it brings that back into your life. For someone who really maybe hasn’t been into fitness that much, they’ll learn how to do things they’d never dreamed they’d be able to do. The Salt Games will be a great opportunity to show people what you can do in the CrossFit world, with the beach as the backdrop.”
Surf City Stand Up Paddleboard Race
Don’t know much about paddleboarding? The name of this event pretty much tells you all you need to know.
Stand-up paddleboarding has roots that date back to the ancient Polynesians, who used boards and paddles as a way to get from one place to another between islands. In recent years, however, the stand-up paddleboard has emerged as one of the fastest-growing popular water sports.
Why? Almost anybody can do it, said Mark Allison, owner of Myrtle Beach’s Surf City Surf Shop. Allison sells paddleboards and regularly gives lessons in the sport at locations along the Intracoastal Waterway.
To introduce paddleboarding to the Salt Games masses, Allison and event organizers are planning a course that will run about two miles parallel to the beach near Plyler Park. The course won’t be set up until the day before the event, to account for wind and other weather conditions.
Stand-up paddleboarding can be done on any good-sized body of water, from a lake, river or the Intracoastal to the open ocean. Pretty much the only equipment needed is a board and a paddle, and you’re good to go.
The sport first started taking off in Myrtle Beach around 2007, Allison said, and has become increasingly popular with adults, especially women. Paddleboarding can be learned fairly quickly, and once you know what you’re doing, it’s a great way to stay in shape while enjoying the sun and water. Unlike surfing, paddle boarders also don’t need to wait for the perfect set of waves to fully enjoy the activity.
“It’s probably one of the best total body workouts you’re going to get without straining yourself, because there’s not a lot of impact and you still get all the cardio you would by running, or hitting the elliptical at the gym,” Allison said.
So why come to the Salt Games? Whether you’re interested in learning a new workout or a new sport, listening to music, or checking out bikinis while enjoying a cold one, none of this matters to the organizers. The key, all of them say, is to get everybody, whether a Myrtle area native or somebody who just drove in over the Waterway bridge, back to the beach. Scientists have been saying for years, after all, that all life started in the ocean, and this initial event on Sunday is a chance to discover where it all started.
Learn more about the Salt Games at www.thesaltgames.com or www.facebook.com/TheSaltGames.