After a decade of surfing on Folly Beach, it's easy for surfers to feel like they've peaked. The waves will always be clean but small or big but windblown. For McKevlin's surf shop manager Brian Eichelman, that stalled-out moment came three years ago. So he returned to the sport he loved as a teen in Knoxville, Tenn. — skateboarding.
"If you want to be the greatest bull rider, 50 percent is the bull. With surfing, 50 percent is the wave, and I do feel like I hit my ceiling, as far as improving," the 35-year-old Eichelman explains. "With skating, it's 100 percent on you. There are no excuses. With concrete, you can't cheat."
At his high school, students were allowed to leave at 1 p.m. if they had a job. Faced with working at either a fast food restaurant or a grocery store — the typical options for a teen — he and his friends pooled together a few thousand dollars and opened a skate shop. It's open today.
Eichelman took his return to skating seriously, choosing tricks that he wanted to learn and setting dates on his calendar to meet those goals. But there was a challenge: finding a place to skate on Folly Beach. Fortunately, Eichelman found a spot at the public basketball courts at the fifth block on East Erie Avenue. He then set out to build portable obstacles, including ramps and a pipe to grind on. Teenagers from around Folly began to add their own homemade components, and before long, an impromptu skate park emerged nearly every afternoon.
That development has helped spur a true skate community on Folly Beach, embodied by about two dozen boys age 10 to 15 who gather daily to hang out and ride. When Eichelman realized the hidden talent on the island, he lent the kids a GoPro camera to document their most impressive maneuvers. What began as an idea for a few YouTube shorts has since grown into an hour-long feature, Brian & Me. That film debuts Saturday at The Tides.
The opening is also a fundraiser. Although Eichelman provided the capital for the three metal elements (built by Aaron Allen of Vanguard Machine & Tool, who helped construct the Bieringville Bowl on Johns Island) that will be placed on half the basketball court sometime this week, raffle tickets sold at the event will help him recoup some of the expense.
Although Eichelman claims his motivations were selfish — he wants to see a skate culture on Folly Beach and he wants to sell more boards at McKevlin's — his impact on the local youths is evidenced by the name the teens chose for the film.
"The way I look at my relationship with these kids is that I'm just showing them how you can be creative and basically take a tiny little idea and blow it up into a massive, cool project," he says. "I want to show them that anything is possible, and that life isn't necessarily grinding away 40 hours a week. It's about picking something you really like and following it all the way through."
Brian & Me was filmed over the course of a year. For most scenes, Brian gave the kids cameras and didn't ask questions. The result includes scenes of skaters skating under private million-dollar houses, down staircases at condo complexes, and around Center Street sidewalks where the sport is banned.
Of course, riding in off-limits areas has always been an element of skate culture, but that's a risk that local skaters seem willing to take."I can't wait," says 14-year-old Naia Pieniak, a home-schooled Folly local who took up skating in 2012. He built a ramp and a "box" for the impromptu park, and is featured prominently throughout the film.
"No one realizes how many of us there are," Pieniak adds, citing the 25-30 good friends he's made through skating on Folly Beach. "So far it's been like a secret skate organization."
That secret is about to be out — and well documented, at that. Unlike a bigger budget film where pros travel to the best concrete on the planet, Brian & Me is an old-school, traditional skate movie, with local kids busting grinds, ollies, and kickflips wherever they can find a suitable obstacle.
Eichelman says, "It's been fun, and these kids have learned to shred on crap that we made, but it's about to get real legit now."