From the Crystal Coast of North Carolina to the southernmost tip of Key West, Florida, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place richer for standup paddling than the Southeast. Maybe it's the endless variety of pristine waterways, the diverse range of paddling options, the ability to see an array of aquatic creatures in their natural habitat, or maybe it's just good old-fashioned Southern charm. Whatever the case may be, make sure you pack a paddle next time you find yourself down that way. –JH
Crystal Coast, North Carolina
From the wild horses on Shackleford Banks, to miles of tranquil water trails snaking along Cape Lookout National Seashore, the Crystal Coast is an oasis for paddlers of all abilities. While waves break on the Atlantic side of the barrier islands, the sound features peaceful flatwater paddling, free beach camping and excellent SUP fishing.
"The lighthouse and Cape Lookout are some of the most beautiful places on the planet," says Rod Hoell, owner of Beaufort Paddle. "The weather is perfect in the fall—and most of the tourists have gone home."
Where to paddle: Cape Lookout National Seashore, Shackleford Banks
Local Outfitter: Beaufort Paddle
Wilmington, North Carolina
The Wilmington area is among the East Coast's most popular SUP destinations. Included in this 50-mile stretch of coastline is Wrightsville Beach–host of the Cold Stroke Classic, the Surf2Sound Challenge and of course, the Carolina Cup. For less competitive paddlers, the Cape Fear River and Black River offer scenic paddling, Masonboro Island offers a nine-mile stretch of remote surf breaks and diverse wildlife and the Cape Fear Coast offers even more exploration.
"The Cape Fear region is known as the graveyard of the Atlantic because you can paddle out to numerous shipwrecks," says local pro paddler April Zilg. "These wrecks were caused by shallow shoals and those same shoals have created a bunch of great surf breaks."
Where to paddle: Wrightsville Beach, Masonboro Island, Cape Fear Coast, Black River
Local Outfitter: Carolina Paddleboard Co.
Charleston, South Carolina
Southern charm runs thick in the historic town of Charleston. From circling the Morris Island Lighthouse to paddling up to mouth-watering eateries along Shem Creek, there's no better way to experience Charleston than via SUP.
"The big attraction is the dolphins; on our tours we see them strand feeding on the beach, which is really unique," says Sarah Coleman, tour guide at Charleston SUP Safaris.
In addition to the wildlife, paddlers can SUP surf or downwind at Folly Beach, get an up-close view of Civil War sites like Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor or mingle with the growing community of paddlers at the Chucktown Showdown (September).
Where to paddle: Charleston Harbor, Folly Beach, Shem Creek
Local Outfitter: Charleston SUP Safaris
The hometown of SUP surfing stars Izzi and Giorgio Gomez, this quintessential Florida destination has everything a paddler could dream of. From a large SUP yoga community to the popular Tuesday Night Racing League at Blueline Surf and Paddle Co., you are sure to find your niche. But what sets this town apart from the others is the friendly surf culture.
"Jupiter is great for SUP surfing with Juno Beach offering a long stretch of great beach breaks," says Izzi Gomez. "There are always tons of standups out there and it's really fun because our entire watersports community is really laid back and inclusive."
Where to paddle: Juno Beach, Loxahatchee River, Jupiter Intracoastal Waterway
Local Outfitter: Blueline Surf and Paddle Co.
Fort Myers, Florida
The Fort Myers region is perfect for paddlers looking for a scenic flatwater experience. In the mornings, paddlers can search for dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico before retreating to the shallow, wind-protected backwaters of Lover's Key during the afternoon. This area allows paddlers of all abilities to catch a glimpse of West Indian manatees, ospreys, manta rays and other diverse wildlife in a calm, safe environment.
"This is a more conservative paddle area," says Brandon Greer, owner of Sweetwater Paddlesports. "The water is no more than three feet deep and most people are just out to have fun with the whole family."
Where to paddle: Lover's Key State Recreation Area, Bonita Beach
Local Outfitter: Sweetwater Paddlesports
Key West, Florida
More than just the original Margaritaville, Key West is a haven for standup paddlers. Overgrown mangrove forests in Cow Key Channel tower over paddlers while the clear waters offer a look into the teeming marine life below.
"The shallow mangrove creeks are like paddling through a nursery," says Bethany Tietz, paddle tour guide at Lazy Dog Adventures. "Paddlers can expect to see juvenile nurse sharks, stingrays, manatees and more just below their feet."
For those with a competitive itch, the Key West Paddle Classic brings hundreds of racers to participate every April in a scenic 12-mile race around the island.
Where to paddle: Cow Key Channel (between Key West and Stock Island), Salt Pond
Local Outfitter: Lazy Dog Adventures