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Surf shop owner Rhett Boyd loves small waves

Going Rogue

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When Rhett Boyd was 10 years old, his mother came home from a yard sale with a surfboard. It was a late-1960s board, and it weighed 35 pounds. But there was one problem: No one in his family surfed.

Five years and a skateboarding hobby later, Boyd started dabbling in the sport with friends. He'd lug the 40-year-old board to the beach, which was about 45 minutes from the town he grew up in outside of Beaufort. And he fell in love.

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After some landlocked college years studying Christian ministry in the Upstate, Boyd headed west weeks after graduation. He crashed with one friend, and another gave him a new board. "That just really lit me on fire," he says. "From there on, any waking moment that I wasn't working or with family, I was in the ocean."

Today, in the waking moments when he's not at his job at the Art Institute of Charleston, with family, or surfing, he's focused on his store, Rogue Wave Surf Shop.

Prior to opening Rogue Wave, Boyd taught in California and then lived in Costa Rica, where he first got the idea to open his own surf shop. Upon returning to Charleston, he took a job at Charleston Watersport.

Once he was settled in the Holy City, he landed a gig at the Art Institute, where he works as a career services advisor. There, he met designers like Ashley Reid and Julie Wheat. He was inspired.

While at the Art Institute, his goal of opening a surf shop really began to take shape. In fact, a graphic design student, who was also a skateboarder, gave him a rough sketch that turned into Rogue Wave's identifying logo. Shortly thereafter, Boyd began screen-printing T-shirts in his tiny home studio space and made bumper stickers with the slogan "I Small Waves."

As anybody who has ever been to Folly can attest, the beach isn't home to North Shore-sized waves. And Boyd is fine with that. In fact, he embraces it. "Most of the time, when you've got time, you've just got to go," he says about surfing at Folly. "If you sit around and wait for it to be better, chances are it might get worse. If you're in the water, at least you're having fun."

When it comes to his inspiration for Rogue Wave, Boyd can paint a pretty vivid picture: "A pair of beat up boots coupled with a pair of raw indigo salvaged denim jeans, a really slick button down shirt, and who knows, maybe a newsboy-style cap ... with a vintage T-shirt."

Boyd loves juxtaposition and unlikely contrasts, like combining the world of Southern gentry with punk-rock surf culture. "Those are the two worlds that in my mind always collide," he says. "That Southern aristocracy that I grew up with ... that style of true Southern culture and heritage. I'm all about that, but at the same time, at heart I'm a surfer and skater."

Rogue Wave is the only Southeast distributor for Warriors of Radness, up for GQ's 2011 Best New Menswear Designer. You'll also find C Jive Clothing, Appolis Global, and Riviera Club. He carries Gato Haroi surfboards and also works locally with Richard Prouse of Grasshopper Surfboards (see his story on p. 58). They're planning on making what Boyd says is "the optimal longboard for Charleston." Rogue Wave is also stocked with a big mix of vintage clothing. Boyd buys, sells, and trades, scouring flea markets and estate sales when he can.

He's currently at work on his own line of board shorts, RW+SS. Boyd says, "The material they're made from is a cotton-canvas fabric, which to a lot of people might scare them at first ... but that's what everyone wore back in the '40s and '50s."

For Boyd, that begone era has a special appeal. "I love that classic era of surfing, pre-World War II," he adds. "Guys would get off duty in Hawaii in the service, find a pair of military field pants, and hack them off into shorts and learn to surf."

Boyd's trunks can be tailored, something you can't do with the average pair of nylon trunks, and they'll fade over time.

Until very recently, you could only catch Boyd and his gear at pop-up shops, which he hosted anywhere from his friend's gritty and dusty woodshop on James Island to the super-refined Billy Reid store on King Street. "The turnouts have been amazing," he says.

By the time you're reading this, Rogue Wave will have its first official homebase: at the Hub at 69 Spring St. At first, they'll only be open on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (and maybe a little later when they show films in the outdoor seating area) and by appointment.

Boyd wants Rogue Wave to have a strong presence in the surf world. He thinks Charleston's surfing community is divided in two — the Red Bull-drinking shortboarders on one side and the hippie-ish longboarders on the other.

"We, I think, have done a great job of bringing both together. Guys that a lot of times don't like to share waves — we're kind of bringing along a new era," he says. "We've helped build a lot of friendships, I think, and that's been the most positive response. What I'm most excited about is helping to bridge gaps within the surfing world here."

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