Camp Crystal Kai is a week-long, all-inclusive SUP getaway for women that is held in North Carolina's stunning Crystal Coast. The camp will be held May 12-20 and is open to paddlers of 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 helping those who are new to outdoor activities get on a path to a healthier lifestyle.
Words by Casi Rynkowski
The aroma of Carolina crab cakes, mango salsa and salty Atlantic air fills the palatial beach house's dining room. It's the first dinner at Camp Crystal Kai–a weeklong, all-women SUP retreat in North Carolina. As dinner winds down, conversation picks up and introductions are made.
Tracy Remelius, a 42-year-old, certified SUP yoga instructor from Massachusetts is here to strengthen her skills on the open ocean. "I'm specifically looking for more ocean paddling experience, especially with surfing." Tracy is no stranger to the idea of women stepping beyond their comfort zones. She also works for a non-profit company called SheJumps, which gives women and girls the opportunity to explore all things outdoors. This camp is a chance for Tracy to improve her skills as a paddler.
Twenty-six-year-old Bri Andrassy, from Jacksonville, Florida, is an avid angler. She has fished since she received her first Mickey Mouse rod when she was five years old. As a high schooler, Bri would sometimes fish all night on the weekends, catching a few hours of sleep in the back of her truck. These days, she weaves in time to fish as she makes her way through nursing school. "I learned to paddle specifically to fish, but I was never exposed to paddling technique or some of the different disciplines," she tells the group. "Of course, I would love to learn to standup paddle surf."
Anna Levesque, a 45-year-old Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor is co-guiding this camp with me. She has more than 20 years of paddling experience and operates a successful women's outdoor paddling business, where she teaches kayaking, paddleboarding and provides wellness counseling. However, this camp is different for Anna, since her mother decided to join.
"My name is Eva," says Anna's mother, an Ontario native. "I'm 72 years old and I have never paddleboarded before. I will be happy to standup once this week."
Beyond paddleboarding, this is Eva's first time participating in any type of outdoor adventure activity. She's more comfortable with the arts—literature and theater, mostly. The motivation to participate in this weeklong camp came not from a fancy advertisement depicting a beautiful model paddling in some exotic location. It didn't come at Anna's urging, either. Instead, Eva found inspiration during a recent trip that she and her husband made to visit their daughter. After watching her husband paddle off with Anna down the French Broad River, Eva decided that if he could do that, so could she.
Carol Battle, a 56-year-old local from the Crystal Coast, is an experienced triathlete. However, this camp will provide her with an introduction to paddleboarding. It took Carol a few inquiries before she mustered the courage to sign up for Camp Crystal Kai. "I have no idea if I will be able to stand up, but I'm excited to try and also spend the week getting to know y'all."
Milli Walker, a 40-year-old mother from Little Rock, Arkansas, wanted to do something for herself. It's a common thread for many mothers who juggle the stresses that come with raising a child and maintaining a career. By contrast, 27-year-old Cassie Parys, a nanny from Massachusetts, wants to spend the week exploring on a paddleboard.
Unlike previous camps and retreats that I've led, this one excites me for new reasons. It's the first time that I've led a group of women with more than 45 years of age difference between them. That alone provides great diversity. As dinner wraps up on the first night, I can already tell that this camp is special.