Destinations | SUP Sweet South Carolina
Paddling in the Palmetto State
By: Sam Boykin
Twenty miles south of touristy Myrtle Beach is the Hammock Coast, a pristine peninsula where five rivers converge before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. The area is dotted with eclectic little villages, including Pawleys Island. Here you'll find Surf the Earth, which offers SUP rentals ($40/day) and tours ($60/person) of nearby North Inlet. This 12,000-acre expanse is an untouched ecosystem of protected salt marshes and wetlands boasting miles of pristine waters, winding creeks and barrier islands where you're likely to encounter dolphins, turtles, eagles and osprey.
For surf paddling, head to the inlets on the north or south end of the island, where you can catch rolling 200- to 300-yard rides. Or, launch from the island's public boat ramp to access the 140-mile Waccamaw River and enjoy great touring and downwind paddling, including a 5-mile loop to Butler Island, loaded with gators, hawks and eagles.
After a day of paddling, drive the 10 miles south to Georgetown, South Carolina's third-oldest city. Stroll through the historic downtown overlooking Winyah Bay. For dinner, dine on steak or fresh seafood at the River Room Restaurant, which is located inside a restored 1888 building with sweeping views of the water.
Charleston has long been considered one of the top travel destinations in the country thanks to its vibrant, historic downtown. Moreover, the city is a haven for SUPing because of its lively beach communities and varied waterways.
For a great downwind experience, depart from the city's 10-acre Brittlebank Park along the Ashley River and paddle to Charleston Harbor, an inlet where the Ashley merges with Cooper River.
Touring more your style? Head to Folly Beach, about 15 minutes from downtown and paddle along the Folly River, easily accessible via public boat ramp. This six-mile tidal river has several loops and a number of islands and creeks to explore. If you're feeling ambitious, paddle to the Morris Island Lighthouse, just north of Folly Beach at the entrance of the Charleston Harbor.
Folly Beach also has great surfing, most notably along the Folly Beach Fishing Pier, which is also located off Center Street. This area is bustling with restaurants and shops, including Charleston SUP Safaris, which offers rentals (starting at $35 for two hours) and tours ($45 per person).
At nearby Sullivan's Island, across the Cooper River Bridge, look for Station 25, where 300-yard shoals jut out into the ocean. At high tide the area is ideal for catching waves, and during low tide it's an expansive playground of tidal pools, perfect for beginners. Before you leave, be sure to hit funky Poe's Tavern for a famous half-pound Angus Chuck burger.
While Hilton Head is perhaps best known for its exclusive resorts and golf courses, there's great paddling. Mark Wray of Outside Hilton Head (rentals $25/hour; tours $45/person) says Broad Creek is one of his favorite downwind spots. During the offseason the island gets Nor'easters, and the creek, which nearly bisects the island, provides great conditions.
Pinckney Island and the May River offer superb touring. Pinckney is a 4,053-acre National Wildlife Refuge on the Island's north end, surrounded by salt marsh and tidal creeks that teem with life. May River snakes between Hilton Head and the mainland and merges with several other rivers around Palmetto Bluff. Although the vast expanse of land has been developed with resorts and vacation homes, it still offers a pristine view of South Carolina's beautiful maritime forests and marshes.
See other stories on North Carolina, here.
This destination feature originally ran in the Winter 2013 issue.