Photos by Rhys James and Will Fairman
Every May since 1980 has seen South Carolina's Myrtle Beach overrun with strippers, prostitutes, and gangs of kids on sports bikes, all congregating in the seaside town for a five-day party called Black Bike Week. The festivities essentially involve thousands of African American bikers from all over the US heading to the area to rag their bikes down the boardwalk, sit around and talk about their bikes, and throw non-stop parties involving lots of ass-clapping and male strippers.
Weirdly, that hasn't gone down too well with the town's authorities or local tourist board—organizations that are far more accustomed to busloads of Midwestern pensioners taking photos of each other eating ice cream on the pier rather than clapping their asses and stripping in public.
But the annual tradition continues uninterrupted, and this year we headed out to make a film about the whole thing. I had a chat with presenter Charlet Duboc about her time at Black Bike Week and asked her why exactly the residents of Myrtle Beach are so opposed to the event.
VICE: Hi Charlet. So what's the deal—is this like an all-black Hells Angels?
Charlet Duboc: No, it’s really different. When you think about biker gangs, you think of big-bearded angry racist white men, but these guys are generally all young. They have sports bikes like Kawasakis or Yamahas, and they customize them with neon lights and cartoons and stuff.
So a bit like boy racer bikers?
Yeah. Oh, and another thing you don’t get with the white bike gangs is this thing called "pillion clapping," where you have a hot girl on the back wearing a thong and she ass-claps. The position of a sports bike is different to a Harley Davidson. The back seat is raised up at an angle so the girls are literally on a pedestal, clapping their butts. It’s amazing.
Why does it happen specifically in Myrtle Beach? It seems a pretty unlikely place for all that ass-clapping.
The whole event started on Atlantic Beach, which was the first ever beach black people could go to during the segregation. It was a black-only town, there’s a lot of history behind it.
How do the locals feel about it?
Not good. Off camera, one person said, "I know not all black people are bad, but compared to the white folk, they just behave so terribly. The girls wear next to nothing and basically have sex in the street. People don’t know how to behave." It’s obvious that racism is a big problem down there. In 2010, the NAACP sued the city of Myrtle Beach for institutional racist bias because, according to the bikers, during that week all the restaurants were closed, the hotels were closed, and the city was hostile towards them.
But obviously they should stay because of the history.
Yeah. Also, there’s a long-standing no helmet law because I guess people really don’t want to ruin their hair.
Are there many accidents?
Yes, there are lots. I think there were 12 traffic-related deaths this year alone.
Bummer. What about the less traumatizing stuff?
There are a lot of girl gangs, which is cool because it used to be really male-dominated and the girls would just ride on the back. These girl gangs have a different kind of sex appeal—a lot of them wear heels when they ride, but they’re all tough.
So what else goes down other than the biking?
There are loads of parties, and at the end of the week there’s an all-black, all-male strip club for the female bikers. They get naked and masturbate onstage.
Oh nice. How long’s that been going on?
A few years.
Why male strippers instead of females?
Women are so objectified during the main event, so one female promoter decided to buck the trend and do something for the girls. The whole thing is really just a big week-long party, like a festival. Loads of promoters capitalize on it and there are lots of celebrity PAs.
Surely the surrounding town can get into the idea of hosting lots of big events and drawing in tourists?
Not at all. Even when I spoke to the official town spokespeople for Myrtle Beach, they said they wouldn't do interviews or help with the filming at all because they don’t officially acknowledge the event. They don’t want anything to do with it.
How do they respond?
One of the locals said he kept a gun with him at his tourist stall on the strip.
Is that really necessary?
Not at all, I think he was just racist. There are a lot of prostitutes, though—you can make a ton of money over that weekend.
Interesting. Finally, did you go on a bike?
Yes, I did, but I broke with the trend and wore a helmet.
Phew. Thanks, Charlet!
Like what you see? Black Bike Week the film goes live on VICE.com tomorrow.