A beachcomber must always be wary of lightning. When thunderheads move in from the ocean or push across the waterway, it’s time to head home, grab an oat soda, and enjoy the light show from the front stoop.
But there have been times that the fossil hunting is too good. Retreating tides expose massive shell beds. The temptation is too great to resist and, essentially, I put my life at risk by staying on the beach longer than I should. Anyone watching from a hotel balcony probably thought I was “crazy” to be out there.
Adrenaline can be like a drug.
No doubt Anderson Estep, 19, was looking for a rush when he carried his surfboard into the rough waters as Tropical Storm Andrea moved through the Grand Strand a little over a week ago. Estep disappeared shortly after entering the surf. His board washed ashore, but he hasn’t been seen since.
I’d been down to the beach that morning. Frankly, I’d rarely seen the surf so huge and choppy. Andrea’s strong winds pushed the waves atop one another, resulting in an undertow that was horrific. Ebbing waves tugged forcibly at my lower legs as I waited for a big tooth to slide down the sloped sand.
There were a few surfers up here on the north end of Myrtle Beach trying hard to make it out through the rough breakers, but nobody had any luck. I recall looking at one of them as he studied the waves from shore and thinking that he was “crazy” to even consider tempting fate. I thought briefly of warning him, then realized that he knew a hell of a lot more about the dynamics of those waters than I do.
A few hours later, the news broke that a local man had disappeared in North Myrtle Beach while surfing with a friend. As a newshound, I saw the story just after getting back from the beach. The website of a local television station reported that the man was missing after entering the water near Cherry Grove Pier, and I hoped that there was some kind of mistake. That he would show up alive and well somewhere else.
This past Thursday the local surfing community paid tribute to Estep with what is known as a “paddle out.” Roughly 100 of the tightly-knit group paddled just beyond the breakers and formed a circle as family and friends gathered on the Cherry Grove Pier and along shore. The ceremony was both beautiful and bittersweet as flowers were tossed into the ocean and everyone shared wonderful memories of a well-liked young man. A local pastor offered some comforting words.
Anderson Estep died doing something he loved to do. How can anyone fault or judge him for that? His passion for surfing was undeniable. His enthusiasm for life — admirable.