Camp Crystal Kai is a week-long, all-inclusive SUP adventure for women that is held in North Carolina's stunning Crystal Coast. The camp is being held May 12-20 and is open to all skill levels. It will include fitness classes, yoga sessions, relaxation and individualized paddling instruction provided by lifelong paddlers Casi Rynkowski and Anna Levesque.
Rynkowski is an avid paddler who has over a decade of experience training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and newcomers. She is passionate about engaging those who are new to outdoor activities and helping them get on a path to a healthier lifestyle.
Words by Casi Rynkowski
A Camp Crystal Kai paddleboarding adventure is replete with activities in, on and away from the water. In addition to extensive time spent on a paddleboard, participants enjoy daily yoga sessions, shopping excursions, dinners out, sunbathing by the pool and cocktail hours on the porch. Yet, the Crystal Coast is as much of a draw for many participants as is the slate of activities.
Covering an 85-mile stretch of shoreline, the Crystal Coast offers vast stretches of white-sand beaches and a number of islands surrounded by—as its name suggests—crystal clear water. The sound side of those islands offers protection, accessibility and calm waters for novice paddleboarders. Meanwhile, the ocean side delivers all the wild qualities one might expect along with some surprises, like sandbars covered in hundreds of sand dollars. Quite simply, this stretch of North Carolina coastline is a paddler's paradise.
Wild horse sanctuaries are also common on many of the Crystal Coast islands. What's more, they're key tourism attractions that are accessible to boaters and paddlers, alike. For example, after a walk through the quaint town of Beautfort, paddlers can hop on their boards for a five-minute paddle across Taylor Creek, and then walk among a herd of more than 30 wild Colonial Spanish horses on Carrot Island. Standing on the shore of this wildlife preserve, visitors are at a point where two worlds collide. The island's ecosystems exist undisturbed, and yet it remains within earshot of music and general commotion coming from the docks and bars across the way.
After a day spent honing and learning paddling skills on the calm waters of a canal that meanders through the Pine Knoll residential community—every participant stood up on their boards without difficulty—the group is ready for a 3-mile tour around Carrot Island. Ocean paddling is new for most Camp Crystal Kay participants, but the presence of a support boat and the opportunity to take breaks or to be transported to landing spots via that boat is often what gives newcomers like Carol and Eva the confidence to participate. Pleasant, 80-degree temperatures make the tour an enjoyable excursion, but a 14-knot headwind on the other side of the island convinces Eva to make use of the boat before lunch.
Later in the trip, the entire group climbs aboard a boat for a three-mile ferry ride to Cape Lookout and Shackleford Island, where we'll spend the day paddleboarding around white sandbars that protrude from blue-green translucent water. A visit to this stretch of paradise—with no paved roads, concession stands, boathouses or bridges to surrounding islands—represents what a day at the beach should be.
Fifty-six miles of secluded undeveloped sand dunes create the barriers around Cape Lookout Island with the Diamond Lady lighthouse at her guard. It's here that everyone enjoys a three-mile downwinder from the tip of the hook to the lighthouse, accompanied by giant leatherback turtles, dolphins and pods of stingrays. Along the way, the ladies practice pivot turns and soon take to purposely falling off their boards to swim. The day concludes, appropriately, with some time to sunbath on one of Shackleford Island's beaches, only a stone's throw away from a herd of wild horses grazing in the marsh.