Dad,daughter take to beach, surfboards on Christmas Day. ByChris Dixon

Monday,December26, 2005

Edition:FINAL, Section: LOCAL & STATE, Page B1


FollyBeach — It would be safe to bet that on Christmas morning, thelast thing on the minds of most Charlestonians was surfing. Butthanks to strong south winds spawned by a fast-moving Christmas Evecold front, the Washout was a heaving maelstrom of frigid waves.

Finding abrand-new 6-foot-8-inch quad fin Davo epoxy surfboard under the tree,14-year-old Annie O'Brien and her father Dan, 46, loaded up and madethe drive from James Island to check the waves. They decided topaddle out.

"I just had noidea I was getting a surfboard," said Annie, who has been surfingsince early childhood. "I just thought it would be clothes orjewelry. I saw it and I was like, 'Oh my God.' "

Realizing thathis daughter was likely to want to try the board out immediately, Danmade sure he had time for some waves on Christmas Day if the surf wasup. But, they said, hitting the water on a big swell in the dead ofwinter is an entirely different proposition than sliding into thegulf-stream-warmed Atlantic on a hot summer's day.

Father anddaughter first pulled out a pair of full-length wet suits. Wrappingthemselves in towels, they pulled on the $150 suits, and quicklyfollowed with thickly insulated and newly bought $30 neoprene rubberbooties and $35 gloves. As a last good measure, they donned thick $25hoods. These were key, said Dan O'Brien because of the so-called "icecream headaches" that come from diving under waves in 50-degreewater.

"The big plus tosurfing out here in the winter is that it's not as crowded," he said."But going under is no fun. The cold just takes your breath away."

These sentimentswere also expressed by Bettie Sue Cowsert and Bill Perry, husband andwife owners of Ocean Surf Shop.

"An ice creamheadache is a pain that goes across the back of your head after goingunder about the second wave during the dead of winter," Perry said.

The solution isthe latest incarnation of neoprene rubber, also known as thehigh-tech fabric of the modern wet suit.

Just prior tosettling down for a long winter's nap, Perry demonstrated thephenomenal progress of wet suits in the last decade or so.

"If you want theultimate in warmth, glued and taped seams is the way to go," he said.

With that, hetwisted the arm of 4 mm thick O'Neill "Psycho" model wet suit andblew air into the sleeve. The stretchy sleeve blew up like a balloon,but leaked no air. "A suit like this will keep you really warm."

Perry pointed outthe gloves, boots and hoods that are de rigueur for anyone thinkingof paddling out in cold water. And while all that rubber adds weightand expense, it presents a far better option than hypothermia, hesaid.

"The price isdetermined by the amount of that super-stretchy material the wetsuits have," Cowsert said. "It's around $99 for a non-sealed fullsuitand then your first level sealed suit goes for $130 to $150."

Prices for asuper heavy-duty suit can exceed $250.

Nearby, Perrypointed to a rack of Davo "fish" model surfboards, similar to the oneO'Brien purchased for his daughter.

Here, Perry said,a revolution in design is being wrought by tough new epoxy andthermoplastic surfboards that were perfect for beginners but are alsoincreasingly being used for surf trips by experienced surfers becauseof their increased durability over the classic hand-shaped but morefragile fiberglass resin models.

To illustrate hispoint, he stood atop an overseas manufactured NSP surfboard andjumped up and down on the board and its fins.

The board flexedbut did not break or ding.

"For a beginner,"Perry said with a smile, "I would probably recommend one of these."

A few momentslater, Troy Bode, a nonsurfer from Folly Beach walked into the shopto get a very first surfboard for his 8-year-old son Satchel.

After anotherdurability demonstration, it was not difficult for Perry to convincehim to purchase a $300 NSP.

"It's all he'sreally wanted," Bode said. "Right now, I'm just getting him a board,but there might be a wet suit after that. I think I'll possibly getinto it, too, but I think I'll wait 'til it gets a little warmer."

Out on the beach,O'Brien duck-dived through a series of icy waves while turning towatch as his brave daughter bobbed in the shorebreak and driftednorth in the current. "For a parent to be able to surf with his kid,it's just a wonderful experience," he said.

Spotting a fewopen windows through the whitewater, Annie leapt over waves andpaddled hard for the outside but was pummeled just before reachingsafety offshore.

Eventually, sheturned and headed in while dad stayed out and caught a few overheadbombs.

"I tried threetimes," she said shivering, "and got pounded and it was cold underthe water. You also feel weighted down by your gloves and boots andeverything. Eventually, I decided it wasn't worth it to die onChristmas Day."

Contact Chris Dixonat 745-5855 or