Originally published July 3rd, 2017
Kayaking the many creeks and rivers that surround Edisto Island is a passion best shared with others. Pulling my paddle quietly through the calm water, smelling the pluff mud and salt marsh and watching a sanderling run and peck along the creek's edge while pelicans and osprey soar overhead are just a few of the reasons I love to kayak. Exploring the beauty of this island while kayaking with friends is a great way to feel one with God, restore my soul and ease my mind. Whether paddling the winding creeks along the edge of a maritime forest, in a creek that cuts through the middle of a salt marsh or going across the sound to Otter or Pine Island, there are many great choices with lots of beauty and wildlife to enjoy.
There are also lots of rivers to explore within an hour's drive of Edisto. Paddling the ACE Basin (the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers) is a great way to spend a sunny day with close friends, while enjoying the beauty of the outdoors, abundant with wildlife.
Birdwatching goes hand in hand with kayaking, as does dolphin watching. Spotting an otter or a mink is an added bonus. In the summer months, manatee can be seen in the creeks, and lately some leatherback turtles have popped up near our kayaks.
Having a pod of dolphins breach the surface next to your kayak and hearing them breathe is a spiritual experience that is always exciting, even after 25 years! Their practice of strand feeding (herding schools of fish next to the bank, then launching their body onto the shore) is also a memorable experience. This is a unique way for them to hunt and feed on the fish in shallow water.
These Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins can be seen mating when the water is warm. Just like when the dolphins are strand feeding, kayakers need to keep their distance (approximately 50 yards) so as not to disturb them.
Birdwatching in this area is also very rewarding due to the diverse ecosystems. One can see wading birds, shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors, as well as neotropical migratory warblers. Bringing a nice pair of binoculars and a camera enhances the experience, especially for the avid or up-and-coming wildlife photographers. (Tip: Have a friend paddle you in a double kayak if you're bringing expensive camera equipment and want to concentrate fully on your photography.)
In addition, kayaking is a great way to exercise your upper body. A proper stroke involves stretching your arms as far forward as you can reach, turning your upper body as one unit (arms, shoulders, trunk, waist), then pulling your arms as far back as you can reach in a rhythmic motion. Your back should be straight and bent slightly at the waist. For a better workout, paddling against the current or on a windy day will make you work harder and burn more calories. Charleston County Parks and Recreation offers many kayaking classes so that you can learn the different types of strokes, how to rescue yourself or others, as well as advanced classes for instructors and leaders.
The tides dictate what time of day to paddle and the direction (in or out with the tide) that we paddle due to the difference in the height of the water levels and the differences in the speed of the current. One of the best tools for kayakers is a free app called Tides Near Me. It gives not only the times of the two high tides and two low tides per day, it also gives a weekly schedule and the heights of the water levels at dead high and dead low. If a two-hour paddle is desired, then the best time to go would be within one hour before dead high or low. For example, if the tide is dead low at noon, then the paddle could be from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. The kayaker would go in the same direction as the current (out with the low, or ebb, tide) for approximately one hour, then turn back to paddle with the current (flood tide) when the tide is coming back in. There is approximately 30 minutes at the dead high or low when the current is not moving in either direction. Kayakers can also get the tides in local newspapers, on the Internet, or with yearly tide charts.
Other tools that are very helpful to kayakers are maps (my favorite is called Coastal Expeditions) and charts, usually sold at local bait-and-tackle shops or bookstores. One of the best books for kayaking in this area is called Kayak Charleston by Ralph Earhart. There are a few editions available, but all are very helpful for kayaking the creeks and rivers within an hour's drive of Edisto. Not only are drawings of each river given, but great suggestions are offered for the trip (where to put in and take out), tide differences, and the approximate length (time) of paddle.
Wearing a USCG-approved life jacket is important (the most comfortable ones are made specifically for kayaking) and a whistle is required on all boats. Taking your cell phone and letting someone know your itinerary is also important. You must also have a light on your boat if you're out before or after daylight. Sunscreen, visors/hats, water and snacks should also be packed. Appropriate clothing is recommended depending on the air and water temperatures. If you’re paddling in warm weather with warm water, beach attire is fine. However, if the weather and, especially, the water is cold, then layering can mean the difference in life and death. The 100-degree weather rule is this: if the air and water temperatures combine to 100 degrees or less, then a wet suit or dry suit should be worn. Old sneakers, neoprene wet suit booties or dedicated paddling shoes are best for your footwear. A simple rule to guide your clothing decision is called the ABC's of kayaking: Anything but Cotton!
Kayaking Edisto and the surrounding area is a great way to spend a few hours with friends, enjoying the beauty of the Lowcountry and the birds and animals that call it home. Just remember to invest in the proper equipment and check the tides and flood stages to ensure that your paddle is fun and safe. Happy paddling and hope to see you on the water!
Lindsey Young author and co-owner of Edisto Water Sports and Tackle