Suppose that a countable group $G$ admits a cusp-uniform action on a hyperbolic space $(X,d)$ such that $G$ is of divergent type. The main result of the paper is characterizing the purely exponential growth type of the orbit growth function by a condition introduced by Dal’bo, Otal and Peigné [Séries de Poincaré des groupes géométriquement finis. Israel J. Math.118(3) (2000), 109–124]. For geometrically finite Cartan–Hadamard manifolds with pinched negative curvature, this condition ensures the finiteness of Bowen–Margulis–Sullivan measures. In this case, our result recovers a theorem of Roblin (in a coarse form). Our main tool is the Patterson–Sullivan measures on the Gromov boundary of $X$, and a variant of the Sullivan shadow lemma called the partial shadow lemma. This allows us to prove that the purely exponential growth of either cones, or partial cones or horoballs is also equivalent to the Dal’bo–Otal–Peigné condition. These results are used further in a paper by the present author [W. Yang, Patterson–Sullivan measures and growth of relatively hyperbolic groups. Preprint, 2013, arXiv:1308.6326].