Amick Johnson of Socastee, S.C., had two fishing rods perched before sunrise off the Myrtle Beach State Park pier. He was alone this early June Saturday, except for one other fisherman nearby, two flocks of brown pelicans soaring by in single formations and some pigeons resting on the wooden railings.
By 7:30 a.m., families and groups, some with fresh-brewed cups of coffee in hand from the pier shop, were strolling onto the pier as another busy day got into full swing.
Fishing is one of many ways life slows down and relaxes at any of the eight Grand Strand public piers that reach out into the Atlantic, from North Myrtle Beach south to Garden City Beach. Peer from any pier to meditate, observe wildlife, read, watch a sunrise or let the surf provide a natural soundtrack louder than any earful a seashell can give. Even though hurricanes, especially Hugo in 1989, have taken a toll on the area piers, theyre rebuilt and made ready to make new memories for locals and vacationers alike.
Johnson said he casts his rods from the pier five or six times a week at the state parks pier. The retired high school teacher and coach from Hickory said camaraderie with other angler regulars marks his favorite part of fishing there.
If you catch a fish, he said, its a bonus.
Pointing out the numbered pier spots where fishing colleagues set up their respective camps, Johnson said they all share in a healthy competition of the sport and fun of reeling in catches, and we all pull for one another, helping, for example, when one person brings in a king mackerel.
I can look for my buddies by where they fish, Johnson said.
Ann Malys Wilson, an interpretive ranger at the park since 1994, loves walking the pier at any time of the year because you never know what youre going to see out there, whether youre fishing, crabbing or enjoying a walk.
Shes always on the lookout for marine life such as sea turtles, which will crawl ashore to nest near the beach dunes.
Wilson said piers, like lighthouses, each pile on history.
Teak Collins, owner of the Second Avenue Pier, which anchors the south edge of the boardwalk, said the pier has been in his family for 50 years.
He said he recently saw some manatees in the water there.
Two big ones and a little one, Collins said. They just came by and headed north. He also said whales are spotted every year, some beached ... and some healthy ones, still swimming.
A search for 15-pound flounder lies flat atop Collins wish list.
Follow the boardwalk to its northern terminus for Pier 14, owned by Marc Devereuxs family.
Devereux said the piers front ramp and back end washed away during Hurricane Hugo, but the restaurant remained intact, so the pier was rebuilt with a 200-foot extension.
Besides manatees and sea turtles, Devereux has found waterspouts imprinting the most on his mind, especially one on a path crossing the Second Avenue Pier. One postcard, he said with sympathy in his voice, shows our pier in the foreground and the Second Avenue Pier in the background, with the twister in it.
Devereux said while tourists make up most of the summer business, we have a good local following. You cant beat the location.
North and south ends
On the Strands north side, at Cherry Grove Fishing Pier in northern North Myrtle Beach, Steve Gann said he has seen an alligator, usually a freshwater reptile, off the pier, which includes a two-story observation deck.
Gann, the operations manager, said the pier remains a rallying point for a lot of people who visit the area, and that the customers who return make a tradition that spans decades.
He sees every pier having its own identity, a pillar for people who get engaged there, and that a recent visit of one couple, during which the man popped his question and the woman accepted, lets them recollect the mindset of so special a day.
Paula Green, general manager of The Pier at Garden City, said the landmark in Garden City Beach provides a community gathering spot.
She said The Liars Club, a group of mostly retirees, gathers every morning and afternoon telling fish stories in The Pier Cafe.
Green tipped her cap to the regular fishermen, great guys who offer help to anyone asking, such as for what rod and reel to use.
She laughed remembering a patron who evaded the no-pets rule after walking in with a baby stroller.
I saw people gather around her, Green said. It was a pet beaver.