From all over the country–Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and the state of Washington—folks are arriving in Jasper County this spring to go kayaking, right here in the Low Country!
Every year about this time, our salt creeks and marshes, black water rivers, and woodland swamps entice Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) participants to pack their bags and come boating with the lively instructors at LifeTides Institute. They come from all over, and some return again and again,: they fall in love with kayaking, and they fall in love with our region.
During the spring and fall, for six to eight weeks, LifeTides Institute hosts its Kayak the Lowcountry and Birding by Kayak programs. Participants stay at Palm Key and paddle our waterways while they learn about safety, equipment, technique, and more from ACA (American Canoe Association) certified instructors. Scholar participants who sign up for Birding by Kayak also seek out our wide population of bird species as they explore afoot and afloat.
A kayaker can sit comfortably in the cockpit of her boat with a water bottle between her knees, lunch aboard, and a paddle in her hands and explore a salt marsh close up, laugh at fiddler crabs as they scuttle through pluff mud, take photographs of periwinkles on marsh grass, or see dolphins playing and fishing. A kayaker can watch Great Blue Herons rise from the shore, squawking, as they move from one fishing spot to another, or possibly see an Osprey carry a fish back to her nest. He can hear the elusive Clapper Rail or visit marks of Low Country history as he paddles by old rice trunks and canals. In woodland swamps, he sees alligators slide harmlessly into the water, or listens to the call of the Barred Owl in the cypress trees behind him. What’s that loud splash? Ah! The kayaker has surprised some deer that splash from pool to pool around the bend.
Anyone can enjoy an afternoon out in a kayak, even without any instruction at all. But with a knowledgeable guide and a little orientation, you can have an even better time and get even more from the experience. Essentially, a paddler needs three things, the “big three”: boat, paddle, and PFD, or personal floatation device (life jacket). Snacks are nice, of course, and sunscreen and a sun hat, and sunglasses, and water; kayaks generally have a hatch in which to stow items, such as a picnic lunch.
Recreational kayaking is one of the fastest growing sports in the country because it’s something anyone can do. It’s a sport that an entire family can enjoy, dog included (but not the family cat). Folks with bad knees or hips who have had to curtail their other activities, or folks who used to enjoy canoeing but want to try something different, or folks who love to fish, or simply like the idea of seeing more of nature than they can appreciate from a car window. Kayaking is for everyone!
Couples can try a tandem craft, jokingly called a “divorce boat,” for it takes a bit of teamwork and practice to paddle in unison. Youngsters under supervision can paddle in circles, splash one another, and swim from their boats. Kayakers can just spend a day puttering along the shore, looking closely, listening, or if they are interested in a real workout, they can certainly get it by challenging themselves to paddle fast and hard.
By using good technique, a kayaker who spreads the work throughout his arms, shoulders, chest, and core can glide easily through the water. You may be surprised at how efficient this is, and how far you can go without getting tired. Instructors at LifeTides Institute encourage their Road Scholars to practice good technique so that they can enjoy their time on the water even more. Do not let the folks from Illinois and Vermont have all the fun—we’re letting you in on their secret.
With proper technique, kayaking is a core workout and a stress reliever. It is relaxing, fun, and social. Being outside, getting some exercise, and seeing the world from a fresh perspective: who wouldn’t have a better day if part of it were spent in a kayak, especially in the Low Country!
By April E. Childress, for LifeTides Institute