This weekend, the old Pavilion grounds in downtown Myrtle Beach will undergo a transformation.
For the third year running, the Boardwalk area at Ocean Boulevard flanked by Eighth and Ninth avenues North becomes a temporary village – a sports and entertainment complex devoted to celebrating beach life in all of its glory with the return of the Native Sons Salt Games.
In tandem with the City of Myrtle Beach and with a portion of the proceeds going to the Grand Strand chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, the Salt Games promises to bring in hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators for a dizzying array of athletic events such as the CrossFit Up Dog Summer Games, Lifeguard Games, Pro Am Surfing, Paddle Warrior Pro Am Paddleboard Races, Beach Brawl Wrestling, Ocean Boulevard Blowout Skateboard Contest, Coors Light Pro Volleyball Competition and much, much more.
Did we mention the Peaches Corner Hot Dog Eating Contest or live music from Emerson Hart, front man for the multi-platinum band, Tonic [“If You Could Only See”] with local openers Treehouse! and Oceans Orange? How about Malibu’s Surf Bar Bikini Contest, Moe Moons 5K Beach Bum Run, Ramona’s Hula Hooping or Shanti Yoga’s Morning Beach Yoga?
Clearly, the beach life lends itself to staying active, but the Native Sons Salt Games is inclusive – offering something for everybody and all ages.
According to their website [www.thesaltgames.com], the Salt Games boasted more than 500 registered competitors and 3,000 spectators last year.
At first glance, the festival seemed to be the exclusive domain of athletes or fitness enthusiasts, but then we noticed the music lineup and the hot dog event. The first question we asked Native Sons Screen Print & Embroidery marketing and events director Amellia Diemer was this: What do hot dogs have to do with CrossFit or surfing?
“It’s diverse,” she said. “But it’s about the community and enjoying the beach life and everything Myrtle Beach has to offer – bringing out the locals and getting some of the tourists to see what locals enjoy on a daily basis.”
Add to this the fact that Native Sons was founded in 1984 by Myrtle Beach native Steve Taylor with an eye to having fun and promoting the beach lifestyle, and things begin to come into focus. Taylor, according to Diemer, is all about the local connection – having previously hosted a local event called the Surf and Spike.
“Steve has always been heavily involved with the community,” she said. “We try to stay involved in some of the local events through our apparel, and since the Surf and Spike has kind of gone by the wayside, we wanted something new – something fresh so that we could interact with the community.”
She said that Taylor was interested in adding new elements to the original concept of Surf and Spike, making the Salt Games something everybody would enjoy – tourists and locals alike.
“From there we reached out to Core Fitness and talked to them about getting involved, and they were really excited about it,” she said, adding that Core Fitness proposed the idea of doing a CrossFit competition on the beach under the auspices of their CrossFit Up Dog box, or gym.
“We loved the idea, and they were actually the first people that we brought on.”
Judy Langfitt, owner of Core Fitness/CrossFit Up Dog [with husband Bill Langfitt], cited Native Sons’ Steve Taylor as a longtime friend, and is was through this personal relationship that the CrossFit Up Dog summer challenge came to be a major component of The Salt Games.
“CrossFit competitions happen about every weekend around the world,” she said, adding that for this competition she used a Web-based platform called Garage Games, essentially an aggregator of all things CrossFit, to get the word out.
“People register through Garage Games. Some people plan their vacations around CrossFit competitions and bring their families. What a better place than Myrtle Beach?”
Other local CrossFit boxes are entering teams and individuals as well, and cash prizes will be awarded based on registration.
“Our teams are already full, and we have a few spots left for individuals. We are going to cap registration at 300,” she said, adding that teams are not box-specific.
“There will be prizes for individual Rx [prescribed weights and movements] and individual scaled for male and female, and the same thing with teams,” she said.
Langfitt said she prefers a slow-growth approach.
“We could probably fill more than 300 spots, but we don’t want to. We want to have a great event and keep everything on time. We keep getting better and learn every year what to do and what not to do. I think this is going to be the best one yet,” she said.
Putting together an event of this magnitude must certainly be a logistical challenge – setting up relationships and sponsorships and promoting the event seems to be a daunting process.
And what about dealings with the City of Myrtle Beach?
“They were actually very open to the idea, said Diemer. “Our first year we kind of went through all of the channels – meeting with City Council and going to all of the events committee meetings – and they were very excited to have something that was so open, family-friendly and free to attend – especially in the downtown area.”
We asked Lauren A. Clever of the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation about what it takes to set up an event like The Salt Games.
“The process is fairly seamless,” she said. “The organization comes to the city with their request and it is discussed and reviewed with the Special Events Technical Review Committee that includes all departments that could be impacted by the event. City Council ultimately approves the event and then the special event permit is issued. All events requiring a special event permit are required to follow this same process.”
Back to logistics. How does this impact the regular workings of the city?
“This event is mainly contained on the old Pavilion site, which gives the public sector easy access and the opportunity to participate in the event without interrupting any of the other businesses that are in that particular area. Everyone benefits, it’s a win-win.”
Clever sees The Salt Games as a good fit for the city and said it has become a fun, positive and family-friendly representation of the beach activities for which Myrtle Beach has become famous.
“People enjoy these activities and we are happy that Native Sons has the ability to hold such an event, especially since they are a locally grown company. There is history there and it makes their efforts all the more meaningful in supporting the community that they work in.”
Native Sons has worked with the Grand Strand chapter of the Surfrider Foundation for many years, and because of the beach-related theme of The Salt Games, the organization was a perfect fit as a beneficiary for a portion of the proceeds.
“They do so much for the Myrtle Beach community – doing their beach sweeps and making sure oceans are staying clean – so it was an easy choice for us to pick Surfrider. At the end of the event, we normally award the Grand Strand Surfrider chapter a check based on how much we can get for registration fees,” Diemer said.
Surfrider Grand Strand chair Bruxanne Hein said the organization has enjoyed a 15-year working partnership with Native Sons.
“We are very excited to participate in this year’s SALT Games, raising awareness about offshore drilling and seismic testing, the problems with plastics, and using ocean-friendly gardens to help combat pollutants in our waters,” she said. “We will have educational activities for kids of all ages in the Surfrider area, as well as a half-pipe skateboard ramp for free skating. We’re also thrilled about the surf and skate contests happening in conjunction with the event. Proceeds donated to Surfrider Grand Strand from The Salt Games will help further education, outreach and projects of our all-volunteer nonprofit, serving the Grand Strand from Little River to Georgetown.”
This year, Diemer said The Salt Games will also help out the Surf Dreams Foundation.
“They are actually doing a ‘Take a Kid Surfing Day’ out on the beach on one of our schedules on Sunday.”
Surf Dreams helps to get surfboards and wetsuits into the hands of underprivileged kids who have an interest in surfing.
And The Salt Games also pays tribute to lifeguards, ultimately dubbing one participant the “King of the Beach.”
“It’s a fun thing to get the lifeguards involved,” she said. “They work out there all summer long – every day – making sure that our locals and tourists are safe. We wanted to do an event that exemplified a lot of the things and the strength that it takes to be a lifeguard, so we brought that on and made that the King of the Beach Lifeguard Competition. It’s really a sight to see.”
Phil Jackson, executive director of the Atlantic Surfing Federation [ASF] and founder of Surf Dreams Foundation, said that the Ron John’s Pro Am surfing event will feature the top amateur and professional surfers on the East Coast.
“The event will be held both days to determine a champion in each division,” he said, adding that there will be a push-in division for any child under 10 who needs assistance catching waves.
Jackson said he and ASF competition director Denny Green were beyond stoked when Native Sons asked them to come on board last year.
“Surfing is in our blood and we love to help out in any way,” he said.
He expects between 100 and 125 participants this year. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top four competitors in both men’s and women’s pro divisions. Trophies and prize bags will be given to the top four competitors in the amateur participants – and Jackson said folks from Surf Dreams Foundation will also be on the beach, providing free surf lessons to anybody who wants to try.
Wrestling event head and financial adviser Charlie Soto is a volunteer assistant wrestling coach with Socastee High School and an outfit called Tough Time Wrestling, which he said is a youth wrestling club affiliated with USA Wrestling, working out at Socastee High School and participating in meet-ups locally and out of town.
The wrestling event is called The Beach Brawl, something that Tough Time Wrestling has done as a standalone event in the past, but is now bringing it to The Salt Games. Soto said the approach is a bit different yet age-old.
“It is sand wrestling or beach wrestling,” he said. “It’s different than the style of wrestling than we compete at on the mat, but it’s kind of interesting because it is kind of a newer thing. But when you look back, they always say that wrestling is the world’s oldest and greatest sport – and it didn’t start off on a mat.”
Soto is optimistic about attendance now that they are plugged in for The Salt Games.
“We did this for two or three years,” he said. “We had a good time and it was a fun event, but this year I have had more exposure with The Salt Games,” he said.
Paddleboard racing is being organized by Chad Mullis of Island Surf & Paddle. Mullis was the paddleboard instructor for the Carolina Panthers Cheerleaders last year. He is a certified instructor with the World Paddle Association.
The paddleboard racing events are open to all ages and three divisions – children, amateur [2K] and professional [4K].
“Paddleboarding is a great core workout and it gets you out there on the water,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are 12 or 60 – you can go out and have that tranquil time out on the water and just kind enjoy yourself.”
Awards will be given to winners – and each competitor gets a raffle ticket for a chance to win a $1,000 paddleboard from Island Surf & Paddle. Pro division paddle boarders compete for cash as well.
“We look forward to everyone bringing their families and enjoying the fun with us,” said Mullis. “We would love to grow the paddleboard community here in Myrtle Beach.”
Skateboarding comes into play at The Salt Games too, with contests every other hour from noon to 7 p.m. – taking place on Ocean Boulevard in front of the Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures.
Event head Aaron Frobase of Pepper Geddings Recreation Center and skate leader for the City of Myrtle Beach said skating events are open to all ages at various times, with the less experienced skating earlier followed by more experienced skaters later each day.
And what of awards or prizes?
“Cash for the big kids, prizes for the groms [young, less experienced skaters], but most of it is just a fun day to hang out with the gang and skate something new,” he said.
Beach run and hotdogs
For those with winged feet, local chiropractor Jim Troxell has got you covered with the Moe Moons 5K Beach Bum Run.
“The race starts at the old Pavilion site [Ninth Avenue North] and runs to the end of the Boardwalk [First Avenue North], and then they run the beach under the 2nd Avenue Pier,” he said. “They turn around on the beach at Sixth Avenue North and run back under the pier and run back down the Boardwalk and finish at the Boardwalk at Moe Moons.”
Peaches Corner is the overall food sponsor for The Salt Games. It is also a Myrtle Beach icon, having been in the same location since 1937.
“We have a history that is deeply rooted in Myrtle Beach,” said general manager Briggs Dickerson, adding that most locals have either worked around or in Peaches Corner.
Dickerson has been interested in getting a hotdog eating competition going on the beach for quite some time, and The Salt Games became the perfect opportunity last year.
“Amellia [Diemer] said, ‘hey, why don’t you do a hotdog eating contest?’ I have always thought about trying to get one started,” he said.
“We give contestants five minutes to eat as many hotdogs [and buns] as possible. They are normal, which is roughly seven inches long,” he said.
Whoever prevails takes the $300 purse.
“We try to kind of focus a little bit on the fitness aspect, but [hotdogs] go hand-in-hand with the beach life,” said Diemer.
And she has high hopes for this installment of The Salt Games.
“It’s a family-friendly event, and we are very optimistic about this year.”