Charleston, SC Paddlers’ Paradise
Last week, I took some time off from the pursuit of stuff, and headed down to Charleston, South Carolina for my second East Coast Canoe & Kayak Festival (ECCKF). It was the perfect combination of delightful weather, low country scenery and cuisine, challenging learning opportunities, flat water, moving water, and beloved family. In short, pretty much all the things that make life worth living. Including beer (but not on the water, of course).
Adrenaline &Transcendent Peace
My daughter and I discovered kayaking a few years ago on a mother daughter trip to New Zealand, possibly not the best way to start, because after the South Pacific, the wispy class I rivers in Ohio seem not only tame but about as scenic as a cornfield. Still we love paddling, a sport that combines sheer transcendent peace with the frequent opportunity to drown.
Ballerina in a Boat
The ECCKF features premiere paddlers with world-wide experience. There’s Greg Barton, Olympic gold medalist, Dubbside, a Greenland Kayaking Champion, Wayne Horodowich, former captain of the U.S. Surf Kayak Team, and ballerina in a boat, Karen Knight, past Freestyle Canoe Champion. We left our Intermediate Sea Kayaking for Women class considerably better paddlers than when we started. Karen worked with each of her students (who ranged in skill from novice to expert) individually, instantly spotting the trouble areas, and devising methods and drills to foster improvement. In my case, she put a piece of yellow tape on the center of my paddle and PFD (personal floatation device, or life jacket) and told me to keep both pieces of tape in alignment at all times. It made such a difference that the instructor of my next class told me I had a fine forward stroke!
Between on-water and classroom presentations that cover everything from wacky strokes, knot tying, and back country baking, the festival offers equipment demos and sales, cardboard boat races, a climbing wall, exhibitions and sunrise and sunset harbor and marsh tours.
Boats as Sculpture
Because paddling a boat for transportation is as old as this and many other countries, there were lots of examples of a variety of boats and paddles in traditional materials. These were pieces of handmade nautical art as beautiful as any sculpture. There were graceful frame and skin Greenland boats, aggressively long, barely wider than the width of the occupant, designed for speed and maneuverability. Watching an expert rolling one of these boats is like watching a marine animal on its home turf. There were canoe and kayak paddles executed in gleaming wood with inlaid designs in exotic woods, and wood and canvas canoes. The wood kayaks were sleek and fast with deep varnished finishes that felt like satin and looked like mirrors. I overheard one paddler’s convincing argument concerning how fine a handmade canoe would look hanging from the rafters of their livingroom, but the other half wasn’t buying. “You really need to find something a little smaller to collect,” he told her.
Cooper River Trip
My brother-in-law, a certified paddle sport instructor planned a trip for us. Steve took us down the Cooper River into Charleston Harbor and on into Shem Creek. Off in the distance- Fort Sumter and the Battery. The Yorktown, a WWII aircraft carrier provided a perfect photo op. In their red and yellow boats they looked like dabs of paint at the base of a towering granite cliff. We saw dolphins and pelicans, history and architecture. The sun shone and the water and conversation sparkled.