I signed up for the three hour rental for $28 and was instructed to wait on the outdoor carpeted area next to tables stacked with life jackets. "Are you an experienced paddleboarder or is this your first time?" the attendant inquired. "First time," I excitedly responded. "Pick out a life jacket and wait for the guide to give you some tips." A young couple and myself would be paddling solo. The guide was giving final instructions to the group ahead of us.
It was now our turn. The guide instructed me to raise my arm as high as I could and told me to bend my wrist down. He adjusted an oar according to that height. He did the same for the couple. He demonstrated the fundamentals of proper paddling and showed us how to raise ourselves to a standing position on the board. "Does anyone have electronics on them?" he asked. "I do," I said and showed him the plastic bag containing my keys and cell phone. He pulled out a blue pouch with a snap on it, put the plastic bag into it and instructed me on how to roll it up to waterproof it. He snapped it to my life jacket. We were now ready to embark on our adventure.
We went down a ramp covered with pluff mud-soaked carpets to the edge of the creek, which was six feet lower than high tide levels. It was low tide. We proceeded to mount the boards one at a time starting in a kneeling position. With the water levels so low, standing would have been trickier. I pushed off with my paddle into the gentle current and pointed the board towards Charleston Bay.
For now, I wasn't confident enough to stand up. I remained kneeling and experimented with the proper paddling basics. After a few strokes, I was comfortable with my technique and picked up my speed. The board glided over the water. There was a strong wind coming in from the bay that made paddling more strenuous. Under the present circumstances, I decided to take pictures on my return, with the wind at my back. Cruising past the restaurants, shrimp boats, and the end of the boardwalk, I entered the open waters with Crab Bank Island straight ahead, my first planned destination. Thank goodness, the boat traffic was light.
As I neared the island, the chatter of the feisty gulls grew louder. Ten feet in front of me an enormous figure rose from the water. To my surprise, it was a manatee. My encounter with the lumbering giant of the coastal waters was brief. It slipped below the surface out of sight, but not forgotten. The tip of my paddleboard grazed the shore of the island as I kept a watchful eye for its reappearance. It had parted company, but forever etched in my memory.
The pelicans were indifferent to my presence, but the gulls danced and voiced their disapproval. I soaked in the aura of Charleston's coastline and began to take pictures. I was joined by two other paddleboarders, one was a local and the other was from Washington DC. Shortly after, the young couple arrived. We sat on our boards and shared some friendly, southern style pleasantries. I was the last to leave the island. It was time for me to take my paddleboarding to the next level, standing up.
The stiff breeze blissfully nudged me along. The return to Shem Creek was quicker. I removed my cell phone from the pouch and began to click away. Dolphins effortlessly swam past no more than four feet away. I floated next to the massive shrimpers, cruised along side tour boats, sat on the floating docks by the boardwalk and people watched with my feet on the board, briefly saw another manatee, and waved to tourists on the decks of the restaurants and bars.
With the low tide, the underbelly of Shem Creek's dock system was exposed. A skeletal labyrinth of pillars both old and new, some fractured by the wear and tear of age and the salty life. It was both eerie and beguiling. A tangled decoupage of wood, stone, roots, netting, and marine debris partially covered with crustaceans common to the area.
I would circle back at the bridge and let the incoming current carry me for another glimpse of the Shem Creek waterfront. Even though I had seen it many times before, I was now seeing it from a dolphin's vantage point. I did that several times before turning into my entry point thoroughly gratified with my paddleboard excursion.