Since the inspiration of standing on a surf board with a paddle in your hand stormed unto mainland United States from Hawaii, the lazy tidal waters of Shem Creek have become a mecca of SUPers resulting in a cash windfall for watersport renters, and if it were not for an advertisement I heard on the radio featuring a floating hot dog restaurant called Hot Diggity Dogs, I would not have learned about Charleston Paddler.
After having Googled Charleston Paddler's location before leaving, upon arrival at Shem Creek I still wasn't sure where to find them. After making a second pass by the marina on Mill street, I stopped and asked a couple of young men carrying surf boards near the creek where to find it. They pointed to a building on my left and said, "This is it." A small sign on the fence marked the spot. "Can I help you?" one of them asked. It turned out one of them was the proprietor. I parked my truck and returned to the small, green office decorated with paintings and advertisements.
I introduced myself, we exchanged cards, some interest driven chit-chat and talked over the rental particulars. Harry, a guide and the day's proprietor, was engaging, very helpful, and willing to please. I was interested in the two hour, self guided package for $29. I was offered a waterproof phone carrier and a frozen bottle of water, which I greatly appreciated. The temperature was in the 90's and the early afternoon sun would no doubt be intense on the water.
My board was prepared, no adjustments needed on the paddle and I was ready to go. It was an ideal spot to put in. The only minor draw back was sharing the space with the once-in-a-while boater entering and exiting on the ramp. I boarded and pushed off into the warm, meandering current of Shem Creek. About two minutes into my excursion, I received my first pleasant surprise. A large gray, lumbering object rose out of the water just three feet away from me. The flat, paddle-shaped tail that followed gave away its identity. It was one of Shem Creek's more bashful inhabitants, the manatee. Within a matter of seconds, it disappeared into the murky waters. A Kodak moment missed. I continued my trek with plans of paddling to Crab Bank Island.
As I approached and passed the Coleman Blvd bridge, the salt laced breeze began to increase in intensity. The challenge would not be dealing with the choppy wakes created by the many boats cruising in and out of Shem Creek because the boat traffic in front of the restaurants was light. The challenge would be fighting the strong breeze blowing in from Charleston Bay.
I pulled up to the dock along the boardwalk and removed my camera from the waterproof pouch. I took pictures of the restaurants and shrimp boats and talked awhile with a couple nearby enjoying the view. I saw numerous fellow paddleboarders, a few groups of kayakers and plenty of playful dolphin.
I never made into Charleston Bay and Crab Bank Island. The waves rolling in at the mouth of the creek were more ideal for surfing and battling the strong bay breeze would have resulted in a fierce workout and a possible plunge into the salty, Charleston waters. That's just the way it is sometimes. I decided to stay in the creek and leisurely enjoy the many beautiful sights along the piers of the moored shrimp boats and weather-worn restaurant docks.
The paddle back was a breeze since I now had it at my back. With the Coleman Blvd bridge behind me, I passed more paddleboarders, some with their dogs sitting on the front of their boards. I didn't see any dolphin in this part of Shem Creek. My guess is they do not venture beyond the bridge. I did see smaller species of fish leap out of the water into the air along the grassy edges on my way to Charleston Paddler's entry point, completing my two hour rental.
When it comes to looking for a place to paddleboard, you can not do any better than the historic and trendy Shem Creek waterway. Its meandering tidal currents are easy to navigate and on calmer days offers a beautiful panoramic view of Charleston Harbor from Crab Bank Island. The collection of wildlife and salt water inhabitants you encounter are captivating.
When looking for rentals, Charleston Paddler is an ideal option considering it is located away from the sometime hectic and crowded waters of Shem Creek's restaurant row, but close enough to take it all in via a diverse offering of lessons and tours at competitive prices. Charleston Paddler also boasts a knowledgeable staff of homegrown fishing guides who guarantee you will catch red fish, speckled-trout and whatever else or your money back--just ask for Harry Gilmore.
Charleston Paddler located 529 Mill Street. Cell: 843-813-0655. Shop: 843-469-4323