Born and raised in Hilton Head Island, Byron Sewell was pushed into his first wave at the age of four by his father. And, he's been riding that wave ever since.
Surfing was nothing new to the Sewell family with Byron's father, Hampton Sewell, being one of the first to surf Hilton Head Island in the 1960’s. He was a surfing legend in his own right and cemented the Sewell family as a pillar in the Hilton Head surf community for generations.
For Byron, surfing has carried him all around the globe, and for 25 years he has traveled to the world’s best surf spots competing and enjoying his sport. On his journeys, Byron has spread his love for surfing by teaching others to surf. He has taught students in Costa Rica, New Zealand, and other islands in the South Pacific.
He has now returned home to Hilton Head to share his experience with the kids and families who live here or visit every year.
Hampton Sewell surfing Hilton Head in the early days Courtesy of Byron Sewell
Byron used to help his father run an after school surf camp on Hilton Head. He recalls having the boards waxed up waiting for the bus to arrive. The kids would get straight into the water and surf for hours before coming to shore and working on their homework. Now that Byron has returned to Hilton Head he has created a similar space for a new generation of surfers to find their passion.
Byron’s girlfriend, Carole Berthiaume, helps him run the surf school in Palmetto Dunes. Carole has an impressive resume herself—she has competed in countless competitions with the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) and the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA). She also lived in Maui for four years working as an instructor with Maui Surfer Girls, a top rated surf school. Byron and Carole met over 20 years ago and have remained close friends—a long overdue romance blossomed between the two when she came to help Byron run the camp.
It’s easy to see why when you speak with them. Both of them have the same love for surfing and a desire to spread that love to others. This is an impulse that only gets stronger when they’re together, and it's one of the reasons their camp is so successful.
One of Byron and Carole’s favorite things to hear after a lesson is, “Oh no, you’ve just ruined our kid.” They have had many a new surfing convert proclaim that they’ll be moving to Hawaii to surf the rest of their days away, often to their parent’s chagrin. “My favorite part is introducing them to something new, giving them personal power,” says Byron. “A lot of these kids are from the middle of the country and have never seen the beach. They’re used to baseball, basketball, football, and I get to introduce them to a new sport.”
Offering kids a new perspective is important to both Byron and Carole, and in many ways is inherent in surfing itself as you float on the waves and look back toward the shore. Carole relishes the role of mentor she gets to play for an hour and half during their lessons. “Ingrained in their parents is a certain way of life. With lessons, parents let their kids loose and I can provide them a new experience.”
When Carole starts her lessons she’ll poll the kids: “Who’s excited, who’s pumped?!” Inevitably there’s someone who isn’t so sure about the whole endeavor and this is Carole’s first chance to offer her insight. After her first inquiry she’ll ask “Now who’s a little nervous?” When the little hands go up she explains that “nervousness is just another form of excitement. You’re about to do something really serious, but really fun. To be nervous is normal, but don’t let it stop you.” Carole likes to be real with the kids, treat them as she would an adult. It gives the kids a sense of responsibility and encourages confidence in the water.
“The best part about teaching kids to surf is the turn around, the transition you see in only an hour and a half,” says Carole. “I love the very first look you get from them when they catch their first wave and turn around wide-eyed.” As their confidence builds on the water, so does their enjoyment. “I also love being witness to my students' personal breakthroughs. I have seen so many expectations exceeded and barriers broken down.”
While there is a focus on young surfers, they are certainly not the only ones who can benefit from a lesson with Byron and Carole.
“We like to get the whole family involved. On the water, there is no father, son, daughter, brother, we’re all one.” Byron has made a habit of nicknaming all of his students, big and small. “Dad is always Big Kahuna, Mom is Mama Bear, and the smallest in the family, Little Wahini.” Surfing is often an equalizer for the family and the nicknames add to the feeling of role change that comes on the water. “I feel very blessed to be in a position to help families bond. I once taught three generations in one class: daughter, mother, and grandmother.”
For Byron, the most important thing to pass on in a lesson is something his father taught him early on when he was having a tough time during a competition. His father took him aside and said three words to him that have stuck with him to this day:“Just have fun.”
For Byron having fun is essential to the sport. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. “I’m here to teach kids to have fun.”
You can book a lesson Monday through Friday through Hilton Head Outfitters . Group lessons and private lessons are available. If you’ve ever wanted to give surfing a try, let Byron and Carole show you the ropes. Their experience and passion will make having fun on the water inevitable.