In all the ways that matter, the water is the Lowcountry. Without it, we have no white sandy beaches. We have no meandering tidal creeks that nourish our wildlife. In short, without the water the very soul of the Lowcountry ceases to exist.
To some, our waters are a delicate system that must be saved. To some, they are an idyllic backdrop to a day spent in paradise. To some, the water is the center of their spiritual world, their house of worship.
What does the water mean to you?…
BORN IN SAVANNAH (BECAUSE THERE WAS NO HOSPITAL ON HILTON HEAD ISLAND AT THAT TIME), BYRON SEWELL GREW UP BAREFOOT, COVERED IN SAND AND SALT.
Born and raised on the beach
It was a simple piece of plywood, dusted with white spray paint. But to those returning from their inland sanctuaries, unsure of the horrendous damage that awaited them after Hurricane Matthew, it was an inspiring message of community.
Even before he shot to fame as the creator of that iconic “Welcome Home” sign, Byron Sewell was a legend on Hilton Head Island. Baptized in the ocean, he’d been raised as a true child of the island in a Heron Street cottage with the waves as his playground.
“I grew up running around naked on this beach until I was 10 or 12. People would tell my mom, ‘You need to put clothes on your boy.’ I didn’t care – I was a beach boy,” he said. “It was a dream growing up here.”
His parents raised their only child in our waters. A champion surfer in the ’60s and ’70s, “Hurricane” Hampton Sewell taught Byron the intricacies of the sport, getting him on a board at age 12 and taking him to the U.S. Championships at 18. It’s a passion that has carried Byron all over the world, chasing swells from Costa Rica to Australia and Hawaii.
But his passion for our waterways owes an equal debt to his mom, Alyce. During the halcyon days of the island, the couple ran a Montessori-based kids program called Kindred Spirits. “That was a legendary school. It was magical,” he said. His mom’s field trips would take kids out on the water, collecting clams, examining the ecology of the folly and hunting for shark’s teeth.
It’s a passion for the island Byron is now cultivating in a new generation through his guided tour business Native Son Adventures. His experiential tours guide locals and visitors through surfing, catch-and-release fishing, paddleboarding, hunting for shark’s teeth – all the ways Byron explored his world as a kid on Hilton Head. “We decided the best way for people to see this place is what I call the fried combo platter. They get to surf with me and get a discount on a boat trip where they learn about the beach, do a little yoga, stand-up paddleboarding… the whole thing. That’s turned out to be the hit,” he said. “I’m better for what I’m doing to give back to the island, getting them out and letting them enjoy the island.”
He views Native Son Adventures as a way to pass on the torch, in the same way his parents passed it to him. When he’s not out chasing waves around the world, he’s continuing a legacy of reverence for the waters of Hilton Head.
“The ocean is the ultimate cleanser. After so many years of greeting the ocean, becoming one with the rhythm of the ocean… I finally have that relationship with the ocean that’s very personal,” he said. “The ocean is everything to me.”