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Blazing Paddles: Boats return to races in Pawleys Creek

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Jamie Savula pumped the paddle over his head as his kayak coasted under the North Causeway bridge over Pawleys Creek. He’s used to long paddles on Lake Lanier near his home in Atlanta. “There’s no one to race,” he said.

There was plenty of competition this week at the Pawleys Island Kayak Races. Jamie, 10, finished first in a field of five paddlers in the Boys 12 and Under division. The races drew 70 kayakers and paddleboarders, a dramatic turnaround from the 14 entered last year. “I think we had around 80 one year,” said Scott Benston, owner of Surf the Earth, which organizes the races for the town. He was pleased that the event is back on track.

Thunderstorms forced the cancellation of the races in 2014. Last year’s slump in turnout prompted the town and Benston to schedule this year’s races at midday. While the heat index hovered around 100 on the land, there was a steady southwest wind blowing up the creek.

The tide was still rising when the first boats started from the bridge. That meant competitors were paddling against the current as they headed north along the creek. After they turned, either at the first dogleg for the youngest entrants or at the Third Street Landing for others, the paddlers faced a headwind.

“There was a little place where the wind and the current were calm,” said Allie Marshall, who won the women’s open tandem event with her cousin Kristen Marshall. The family has participated for years. “It’s great fun,” said Eddy Marshall as he pushed a pair of tandem kayaks into the current. “They’ll talk about it until next year.”

Although this was Kristen’s first race, Allie is a “legacy winner,” her mom Renee Marshall said. She and her sister won the tandem event in 2013, the same year Allie and another cousin won in the youth division.

The race attracted a mix of repeat paddlers and first-timers. Jack Adams, 16, of Raleigh, N.C., finished second in the youth kayak competition. His mom Ginger Adams said they are regular visitors, but haven’t been here for a race week before. Neither had David Goldstein and his daughter Lydia, 6, who entered the mixed tandem race. “We kayak a lot in Asheville,” David said. But he never knew Pawleys Island had a race. “We come every year,” he added.

Jamie Savula comes to Pawleys Island every year, too, staying at his grandparents’ beach house on the north end. “I’ve heard about it. I guess I’ve never done it,” he said. His father Dave Savula entered the men’s competition. “I doubt he’s going to win,” Jamie said after finishing his race. “They have fiber. He’s using this one.” He pointed to a Hobie Maui surf kayak.

And he was right. The men’s division, with both the master’s 40 and over and open under 40, was dominated by the long boats, in particular by Sam Harrelson’s 16-1/2 foot Cobra Eliminator. It’s the same boat he won with last year. “He’s won every year that I can remember,” Benston said.

That’s because he didn’t remember the year Paul Laurent beat him. But Harrelson remembered. “I used a wing paddle that year. I haven’t used it since,” he said. It was light weight, but it didn’t give him the pull he needed.

“He’s a good paddler,” Harrelson, a former coach at West Florence High, said of Laurent, who runs Black River Outdoors in Georgetown and spends his days giving kayak tours.

Laurent was third overall and first in the open division. He used a 16-foot Eddyline Fathom with a short wood-handled paddle with carbon fiber blades. Amanda Curl, who is Laurent’s fiancée and also works as an eco-tour guide, won the women’s open with her 16-foot Impex Diamante. It’s upturned bow looked like it might be at home in the Aleutians. “It’s designed more for the ocean,” Curl said.

Second in the master’s and men’s overall was Fred Williams of Chapin, who paddled a 17-foot Perception Eclipse. He’s also a regular at the Pawleys race. He said he had the chance to catch Harrelson, but he and Laurent missed the turn at Third Street. He suggested a buoy rather than the Pawleys Island Police Department’s Wave Runner would be a better marker.

Harrelson was in the middle of the pack as the boats headed north from the bridge. “I almost got left at the starting line,” he said. With the races run in several heats, he didn’t hear the call for the men’s event. But he kept the same steady pace on both legs of the race. “When you get to be my age, you’ve got to have some pace,” he said.

Race results


Boys under 12: 1. Jamie Savula; 2. Tom Lowrance; 3. Conner Scherpereel.

Girls under 12: 1. Mills Howell.

Tandem under 12: 1. Scherpereel Team.

Women’s 40+: 1. Kim Fennell; 2. Angela Hall; 3. Pam Nyberg.

Women’s 19-39: 1. Amanda Curl.

Women’s tandem: 1. Marshall Team; 2. Marshall/Kayes Team; 3. Linda Rushing / Kathy Jacobs.

Mixed Tandem: 1. Hunter/Ethridge Team; 2. Irving Team; 3. Johnson Team.

Men’s 40+: 1. Sam Harrelson; 2. Fred Williams; 3. Steve Herbert.

Men’s 19-39: 1. Paul Laurent; 2. Jack Adams; 3. Andrew Savula.

Men’s Tandem: 1. Chuck and Kel Geisler; 2. Cambel and Henry Geisler; 3. Josh Lake and Lou Hipp.


Boys under 12: 1. Caden Benston.

Girls 13-18: 1. Marlee Lord; 2. Frances Ford; 3. Olivia Ford.

Men’s Open: 1. Ashley Stuckey; 2. Travis Nyberg; 3. Jacob Baucom.

Women’s Open: 1. Trish Lord; 2. Cate Sutz; 3. Heather Teems.

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