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Like oysters, we are a product of our environment

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

LOCAL Life asked Andrew Carmines to share his thoughts on what it means to be local. Carmines is the founder and president of Shell Ring Oyster Company and general manager of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks. LOCAL Life welcomes letters to the editor and comments to our website. Write to [email protected].


By Andrew Carmines

Andrew Carmines is shown with his wife, Erin, and their children (from left) Alice, Milly, Oak and Eddy. ©Dayle Thomas

Oysters are a product of their environment. And oysters from the East and Gulf Coasts are exactly the same species. If so, why do they vary so much in appearance and taste? It’s because they’re affected by so many different things — prevailing wind direction, tide, salinity, and mineral makeup in the water, just to name a few. 

I believe that we are also a product of our environment. I know I am. The variables for us, however, are even more vast. 

I was born on the way to the Beaufort Hospital at the base of the Parris Island Bridge in the front seat of my dad’s pickup. My dad successfully delivered me, thank goodness. I’ve lived on Hilton Head Island from 1978 until leaving for college in 1997. I returned home in 2006 to help with the family restaurant and have been here since. 

Growing up on Hilton Head was a dream. I was exposed to so many interesting people and because it was such a small community, there was a special familiarity between the residents back then that still exists in some circles today. 

For example, there’s Fuzzy Davis, a legendary local fisherman who taught me and almost every kid growing up on Hilton Head in the ‘80s how to fish. My dad, my brother, Fuzzy, and his golden retriever “Keeper” had many memorable days catching spottail bass in and around the island. Often, the bass were bigger than me at six years old. Fuzzy always had a kindness and ease of character that made spending time with him very special. Still does. No coincidence, I feel the same when I’m in the presence of his son, Drew. I recently met his daughter at a charity clay shoot, and guess what, same feeling. Guess it runs in the family.

Raz Reid, another local legend, taught me how to fly cast at a young age. Raz has the dream job. He is a rep for one of the finest fly rod makers in the world, Sage Fly Rods. He’s garnered countless world records, and fishes all over the globe. So when I was 10 years old, Raz taught my brother and me how to cast a fly rod. Fast forward 30 years and Raz still gives me expert tips on fly casting. 

Just a few months ago I was in Long Cove, and Raz rode by on his bike, saw that I was fishing and went back to his house to get some of the latest and greatest Sage gear. We spent the rest of the afternoon pitching top water flies to big bass. Thirty years after our initial lesson and just a mile down the road, Raz and I were right back to it as if it were the day before.

©Michael Hrizuk

When I was growing up, we also were into surfing swells produced by nearing hurricanes and other weather events that created waves big enough to ride. Byron Sewell was at the time, and still is, one of the best surfers to come out of Hilton Head. His “stoke” — the pure joy he has in the water, is something that only a true passion can give a person. I grew up watching Byron and other surfers and learned from them. We all admired not only Byron’s ability but his easy-going character, in and out of the water. Byron has traveled the world surfing and now teaches youngsters to ride the waves, fish, and even find Megalodon teeth. To this day, when I see him in the water, Byron is glad to give me a pointer or two on surfing, for which I am super grateful. I may not see him for years at a time, but there is always that bond between us.       

Now for a more recent example. A few Sundays ago, time got away from Erin and me, and we realized that we needed something for dinner. We stopped by Michael Cohen’s BBQ Pop-Up off Spanish Wells Road. Michael is a two-time Golden Glove boxer from a line of accomplished boxers and trainers. Michael sells barbecue near his house most weekends, and it’s terrific. I’ve met him a handful of times over the years. Anyway, we pulled up to Michael’s cooker and started chatting easily about the island, recreational soccer, go-karts, barbecue, real estate and construction, all while snacking on a lamb chop of the highest caliber.  

©Michael Hrizuk

Meanwhile, Michael’s six-year-old daughter took all three of our kids on white-knuckled rides around the neighborhood on her sweet go-kart. She’s a pretty good driver for six years old, by the way. Look out NASCAR! Michael is planning to reopen his boxing gym this summer after the hiatus due to Covid-19. His goal is to keep kids in the gym and out of trouble. I was not surprised to have felt some connection to Michael and his family.    

During the pandemic we made the decision to send our kids to my alma mater, Hilton Head Prep. It has been a great experience. My kids are thriving, and the greatest thing about it for me is that several of the teachers that I had are still teaching there. I was very relieved that those teachers had gotten over the trauma of having me as a student and are now treating my kids like family. I ran into Peg Hamilton in the parking lot one day and almost teared up, thinking of my kids being in the care of such a wonderful person. 

There is a familial connection between the residents of Hilton Head Island. The term “it takes a village” truly applies here. Local islanders take care of one another and look out for each other. I feel that I was raised by more than just my parents (who are incredible people), and the parents of my closest lifelong friends, and family members. I also learned and continue to learn from countless other “brothers, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces” that are of no relation.  

This extended family is as diverse a group of people as one could possibly assemble. I am so excited that my kids get to experience this as well, and I hope they appreciate it as much as I do. The pride I have in the place we call home drives me to make the Lowcountry as proud of me as I am of it. I strive to share this familial feeling with as many people as possible through my work at the restaurant. I hope it makes those guests feel the way I do.