Spreading the Jam

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Bethany Surf Shop owners Jim and Sheila McGrath gather with pros Bill Baxter and Colin Herlihy and local skimmers at the first Bethany Skim Jam of the year on Monday night. See more photos on page A47.Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Bethany Surf Shop owners Jim and Sheila McGrath gather with pros Bill Baxter and Colin Herlihy and local skimmers at the first Bethany Skim Jam of the year on Monday night. See more photos on page A47.It’s hard to believe, for pro skimboarder Bill Baxter, that it’s been 15 years already.

Not for his pro skim career, but for the Monday-night summer tradition for the last decade and a half, known infamously around town as Bethany Skim Jam.

It was 2001 when Baxter, then working for Jim and Sheila McGrath at the old Bethany Beach Surf Shop location — before they moved to their current spot farther down Garfield, next to Mango’s — came up with the idea to help grow the sport in the area.

The idea was to give the local kids an outlet and way to get together a few times a week, for the skim crews from South Bethany and North Bethany or wherever else, and the newcomers, too, to get a chance to show off their skills without the pressure of a contest setting.

Put simply, the idea was to get out there and skim.

“It was a little get-together at the jam. No contests, no rules, no trophies — just get together and have fun for an hour,” said Bethany Beach Surf Shop owner Jim McGrath. “It started out right away with a good crowd. We’ve had a good little crowd since Day 1.”

“Obviously, the town was a little more mellow back then, but there was still a good crowd,” Baxter recalled. “It kind of had a cult following — a lot of the same families and same kids would show up every week.”

Originally, they started out hosting two sessions a week. One was on Saturday mornings, and the other, of course, on Monday nights.

“You’d have your kids that would always be there on Mondays, but then you’d have your kids that would always be there on Saturdays, so it was cool,” said Baxter. “It was like rise and shine, get your skim on.”

Back then, Skim Jam was more about straight up skimming — more so than the now-growing sport of “Boogie-skim,” made even more popular in the area not only due to conditions, but when pro bodyboarder/surfer Colin Herlihy designed the Herlihy board in 2005.

Made specifically with drop knee and standup in mind, the innovated new shape had the “Buck Board” from Toobs flying off the shelves when Bethany Surf Shop was one of the first to debut it.

With the amount of the board’s signature deer-head logos then circulating around the beach on Monday nights, it only made sense for Herlihy to join in when he graduated from college and moved back to the area around 2007.

“I think Sheila or Jim just asked me, “Hey, it’d be cool if you started coming down to the Jam, and I was all about it,” Herlihy said. “Even for a little bit back in 2001, when I was here for the summer and Baxter was putting the Jam on, I would just come down here and just kind of join in and hang out, because it’s such a cool scene. There’s nothing else around like it.”

While it’s been the premiere Monday-night event and official unofficial start to the summer for local kids ever since it started, Baxter, Herlihy and the McGraths all agreed that the coolest part was getting to see those kids develop their skills over the years, and playing a part in it has been the most rewarding aspect.

“A lot of us have seen kids that started when they were just little rugrats, and now they’re some of the ones that are getting most of the sick waves during the Jam,” said Baxter. “We’ve just kind of seen the full evolution from them, from not being able to stand up to riding whatever board you put under their feet, so it’s cool for myself and the rest of the guys to see.”

“We’ve been blessed enough to travel around the world and do our thing. If we can pass that on and stoke the fire of someone else that wants to pursue that passion, then that’s what we’re wanting to do.”

To kick off their 15th summer, the crew celebrated the first Skim Jam of 2016 last Monday, June 20, with a big turnout and by giving away a free Herlihy board and Bethany Surf Shop long-sleeved T-shirts to skimmers.

As for the future, they said the event would continue to be a Monday-night Bethany Beach tradition and that they hope to see more kids come out and join in.

“It’s cool to bring it all together. It helps bring the skim community together,” said Baxter. “It’s funny to see how it’s evolved. Some of these kids have come to Skim Jam for six to eight years.

“They don’t have to go on to be a pro skimboarder or pro surfer. It’s just really about making memories of being in Bethany.”

Bethany Skim Jam is held every Monday night in the summer, from 6 to 7 p.m. on the beach in front of Garfield Parkway. It is free and open to skimmers of all ages and skill levels. Boards are available for newcomers. For more information, check out www.bethanysurfshop.net or call (302) 539-6400.