The beach at Cherry Grove Pier was crowded with Anderson Estep’s friends and family Thursday night, when at least 100 surfers paddled out to honor the North Myrtle Beach teen who disappeared in the waves.
Estep, 19, went surfing last Friday about 11 a.m. in waves brought to the Grand Strand by Tropical Storm Andrea. His board came back to shore, but Estep was not found.
Tyler Hodges was with Estep that morning and was an organizer of Thursday’s paddle out.
He said they started cruising the beach in his jeep early that morning checking out the waves before deciding to surf at the Cherry Grove Pier, their usual spot. Hodges said he remembers seeing Estep in the water struggling to get past the breakers which he said were especially rough.
“I was ready to tell him to come back to shore, that it wasn’t worth it and there would be cleaner water later that day when I lost sight of him,” Hodges said.
Hodges didn’t want to call the paddle out a surfer’s funeral, instead said it was a surfer’s goodbye.
The surfers hit the water about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, gathering in a circle near the end of the pier while other friends and family hurried onto the decking to view the ceremony. After gathering hands and saying words only the surfers could hear, both the onlookers and those in the water tossed bunches of flowers into the ocean.
The surfers each started looking for their ride back into the shore.
Brian Welch, Estep’s uncle, lives in northern California and is used to good surfing waves on the west coast. He said the ride after the paddle out for his nephew was the best wave he’s ever had in South Carolina.
“I asked Anderson for a wave yesterday,” Welch said. “A set popped up out of nowhere. I wasn’t going to tell anybody because it sounds so corny. Then today he gave me the best wave I’ve ever had here.”
Estep’s family also held a memorial service at their church, Ocean Drive Presbyterian Church where his mother Michelle is a staff member.
Mike Berry, the associate pastor, said Estep was a good kid that came from a family with strong faith. His memorial service was packed, with each seat full and still more people in standing room only, Berry said.
He said Estep played the drums at church, was a talented musician and served on multiple mission trips including one in Haiti in 2012.