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
Fishing from a paddleboard. The idea has everyone in the group wondering what to expect. Floppy fishing hats pockmarked with lures and brown outdoorsman vests are the fashion accessories that immediately come to mind, but on this fishing trip, we take to the inlet of a green, grassy estuary that weaves through the center of Carrot Island. And we do so in bare feet wearing only our bathing suits.
As a local fishing expert teaches us about the gear and how to find local fish, we learn that mushroom anchors are the key to fishing success on a paddleboard. Bri also assists during the lesson, teaching each of us how to cast. "Hooking your neighbor is not part of fishing," she says. "Growing up, my dad made it a rule that I had to yell casting each time."
We soon discover that paddleboard fishing, like all other types, requires patience. As we wait for the fish to (hopefully) bite, we take in the estuary's natural beauty, listening to the current spiral around the sandbar. Then, suddenly…zing! The sound of a fishing reel running interrupts the solitude. "I got one!" Eva shouts.
Two more bites quickly follow and before long, we're composing a soundtrack of laughter and cheers of delight.
A Racer's First
Although she is a first-time paddleboarder, the thing that Carol most wants to experience during this retreat is a race. It's the triathlete in her and she isn't about to let this minor detail of having never paddleboarded stand in her way.
The Crystal Kai SUP Cup—an out-and-back three-mile race—is the culmination of a week's worth of paddling for Carol, pulling together all her practice and putting it to the test against the wind, current, waves, other paddlers and boat traffic. "I'm nervous," Carol whispers as she walks near the starting area, her board tucked under her arm. "All the participants look like professional paddlers."
Anna and I are each matched with a few of the camp participants competing in the race. We'll paddle alongside and provide support as they make their way from the starting line to the finish. Carol is my paddling partner.
The horn sounds and we're off, tangled in a web of paddlers who are all jockeying for the front. Carol and I ease into the race and settle at the rear of the pack. After a little while, around the time that some of the lead paddlers pass us on their way back toward the finish line, Carol shakes off her nervousness. "I think we're dead last," she says in a disappointed tone.
Any negative feelings that Carol has of her position in the race instantly change once she sees about 80 other racers lined up near the finish, cheering her on as she approaches. Carol's smile grows and her pace quickens as she crosses the finish line. "I did it!" she says, mostly out of breath. "I completed my first paddleboard race."
Prevailing in the Surf
On the cool sand of the beach, Eva sits and watches as the other camp participants paddle out away from shore, their bodies silhouetted against the early morning rays of the rising sun. Today marks the sunrise yoga and surfing session just beyond the back door of our beach house, but knee-high waves are all that Mother Nature can muster.
Eva had been out on the water once already, making it past the breaking waves and white water, though she was too intimidated to stand on her board. Now, as she sits watching the other participants paddle out—falling off their boards from time to time but always getting back on—she seems conflicted by her decision to return to shore. A few minutes later, she stands, picks up her board and paddle, and heads toward the water.
"I got out too early," she tells Anna. "I didn't give myself a chance to really try."
Meeting Anna at the water, Eva places her paddle across the nose of her board, kneels, and begins to paddle out. A few strong waves push her parallel to the shore but she corrects, turning the board perpendicular to the beach and continues paddling. When she gets beyond the whitewater and breaking waves, Eva stands. And then she smiles. Eva Levesque, a 72-year-old mother of four and a patron of the arts, is now a paddleboarder.