On The Water: Experiencing the Lowcountry by Kayak

may river kayakIn my opinion, kayaking is the best way to experience the Lowcountry’s rich and diverse natural wonders. It’s also a great way to get some exercise, relax, have fun and spend time with friends and family. If you are new to kayaking, don’t be intimidated! This water sport is great for just about everyone. If you are not sure you will enjoy kayaking, take a guided tour with a local outfitter to get a feel for the sport.

There are several styles of kayaking and boats best suited to each. Surf kayaking, whitewater kayaking and open water kayaking all have highly specialized boats designed for the behavior of the water in those locations. Around the Lowcountry, the more popular styles of kayaking are flatwater paddling and beachfront paddling.

The marshes and rivers in our area are best suited to flatwater kayaking. Flatwater paddling requires minimal specialized skill, is great for families and is the best way to watch birds and animals. Beachfront kayaking involves paddling off the beach, playing in the waves and travelling up and down the beach to nearby sandbars. This style is more physically demanding and hectic than flatwater paddling.

There are two major types of kayaks: sit-on-tops and sit-insides. Sit-on-tops are a sealed pocket of air, surrounded by the plastic shape of the boat. Waves and splashes go right off the sides and through the bottom of the boat. Because they are so inherently buoyant, and perform well in waves, sit-on-tops are the best choice for beachfront paddling. Many people choose to use sit-on-tops for flatwater kayaking as well, especially kayak fisherman, but sit-inside boats perform better on flatwater. These boats have a cockpit for the kayaker and a sealed pocket of air at each end for buoyancy. The advantages of this type include better hydrodynamics and easier paddling over any distance. A disadvantage to a sit-inside kayak is that it may fill up with water when hit by a wave, then the water must be pumped or turned out.

kayaksThere are thousands of different brands and models in each kayak category. A quality kayak will be made of thick, opaque plastics or composite materials such as fiberglass. Look for hardware that goes through the walls of the boats and skillfully constructed seats, buckles, straps, lines and hatch covers. When choosing a kayak, the most important thing is to test it on the water to get a feel for correct sizing and personal comfort level.

Good kayak shops will set up a demo program for you, where you can test paddle some different boats. Other great options are special events that offer on-water trials of a wide variety of kayaks from different manufacturers. Locally, The Hilton Head Island Boat Show (the first weekend of May) features all-day kayak demos Saturday and Sunday. The kayaks are presented by the experienced staff of Outside Hilton Head and include every boat the outfitter sells.

Experience the fun of this favorite Island sport!

Test out a variety of kayaks when the 13th Annual Hilton Head Island Boat Show returns to the Windmill Harbour Yacht Basin, May 6-7. For more than 30 years, Outside Hilton Head has provided personalized adventures for all ages, from kayak, fishing, nature and dolphin tours to kids’ camps, history excursions, family outings and stand-up paddle boarding. For more information about tours, call (843) 686-6996.

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