Ralph Earhart was an avid motor boater for 15 years. He loved the waters around Charleston. But there was one thing about his motor boat that really ticked him off. His was always on the fritz. That may be all well and good for rich bastards, but it wasn't fine for Earhart. "I gave the boat to the repairman and said, 'Take it. I don't ever want to see it again,'" he says.
Of course, none of this changed the fact that Earhart wanted to get out on the water. And so he turned to kayaking. "When I started kayaking," he says, "I just jumped in the boat and took off." Today, Earhart is a member of the Lowcountry Paddlers, a Holy City kayaking club that boasts a whopping 160-plus members, and he's the author of Kayak Charleston: Trips Within an Hour of Charleston. "The whole Charleston area is great for kayaking," Earhart says, noting that the group has seen a surge in new members over the last five years. "We used to host only one trip a month, but we had so many people, we upped it to two trips, and then again to four."
One of the great things about kayaking is that it's a low-energy sport suitable for many experience levels. People who want to start kayaking can literally get into a kayak and start paddling, just like Earhart did. And if you don't feel comfortable with going out on your own, there are an array of local outfitters that host classes and guided tours all around Charleston. Each month, Lowcountry Paddlers offers one to two trips specifically for beginners, and in the high season, that number increases to at least three every month.
Kayaking is also fairly inexpensive — at least compared to owning a motor boat, especially one that breaks down after every trip. Earhart says that you can buy all the supplies you need — a boat, a paddle, and a lifejacket — for under $1,000. "Once you make the initial investment, you're finished," Earhart reassures us. But even if you aren't willing to shell out the big money, there are plenty of opportunities to rent a kayak.
And because kayaking is a low-impact sport, you can take even the shlubbiest poor shmuck you know along. "When I first started, I used to drink full-strength Gatorade and eat trail mix because I thought I needed the energy, but it's not an aerobic sport," Earhart says. "If you want to go out into the ocean and roll your kayak, that's a whole different sport."
Kayaking also brings a whole new view of Charleston to locals and tourists alike. The most popular areas to kayak include Shem Creek and Folly Creek, as well Morgan Creek on the Isle of Palms. The Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers are also popular paddling sites. But if you're interested in really seeing some wildlife, head on out to the ACE Basin, about 40 to 60 minutes south of Charleston. "I tell people when you go out and see more alligators than kayaks, it's a good day," Earhart says with a chuckle. He also believes the Santee River is an underrated waterway. "It's a beautiful area without a lot of paddlers," he adds, "because it's a good 60-minute drive." There, he says, kayakers can often get a chance to see dolphins, water birds, and, sometimes, even sharks.
Uh oh. Does anybody know how much shark repellent costs?
These folks will help you get your kayaking on:
Charleston County Parks and Recreation
Island Paddle Adventures
Nature Adventures Outfitters
Sea Kayak Carolina
Time Out Sport & Ski