Thursday, July 13, 2017

Paddleboarding The Remarkable IOP Estuary Along The Serene Morgan Creek

I mounted my board suspended over the bustling waters of the IOP Marina located at the point Morgan Creek enters the Intracoastal Waterway. A slight teasing breeze brushed past. It carried with it the pleasant scent of the aromatic concoction fermenting around the docks--the resultant byproduct of boat fuel mingling with the fishy, marine air. With paddle in hand, I stroked the surface of the tepid waters impelling me forward into the unhurried tidal current of the creek. My two hour excursion was underway.

A gauntlet of weatherworn floating docks lined with boats of varying sizes attached to waterfront properties crowned with spacious villas accompanied my start for a fair distance, until my leisurely coasting board carried me past the oyster coated pillars of a singular bridge standing like a gateway to the serene world of the IOP's pristine estuary beyond.

I glanced back and bid civilization ado.

Ahead, a sprawling carpet of marsh grass dotted by islands of clustered backwater trees, some greyed and gnarled from the merciless southern sun and the passing of time, filled the horizon. I glided forward. My incursion scattered a school of small fish cutting an exiting trail of parting ripples in the surface of the water and a great white heron prowling the shell covered shoreline, warily watched my every move as I passed by—the first of many I would see on my venture. For the residents of this complex ecosystem, I was an uninvited but cautiously tolerated visitor.

The creek was on the backside of the tide. The retreating water exposed some of the estuary’s oyster beds and oozy, dark-brown viscous material southerners call pluff mud--the confluence of decaying spartina grass, fish, crabs, shrimp, and dinoflagellates primarily responsible for the reason why Charleston oysters are the best in the delicacy world of highly prized bivalves. Scanning the horizon to the far edges of the estuary, the rooftops of the Wild Dunes were barely perceivable.

I paddled past a fallen tree laying on a sandy outcropping. Fiddler crabs quickly scurried for cover across the wet sand. I wisely maneuvered around a razor-sharp oyster bed avoiding what could be an otherwise dangerous situation if my board were to become unsteady. As I paddled up the winding ribbon of nutrient rich waters, I bodily savored the warm aura of the estuary and let its nurturing environment caress my soul. Truly, in this place, one can get lost in their thoughts just as easily as one can get lost in the maze of tributaries. Tributaries too shallow for dolphin to navigate, but swarming with other aquatic species.

Some areas so shallow, the fin on my paddleboard could barely clear the bottom. Areas where the water boiled with hundreds of shrimp frantically jumping helter-skelter in all directions trying to escape my intrusion into their space, sliding across the tip of my board and some banging against my legs. I floated over deep water holes where I watched spottail bass streak across the surface of the water in hot pursuit of a smaller prey, wishing I had a fishing rod, but happy I had my cell phone to take pictures of my trek into the fascinating Morgan Creek estuary on the IOP.

Morgan Creek is just one of the many tidal creeks and waterways around Charleston's barrier islands that offer some of the best venues for indulging in watersports. I have paddleboarded the Intracoastal Waterway on the IOP, Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, Folly Creek at Folly Beach, and Morgan Creek on the IOP. Each offer features unique to its waterscape.

The Intracoastal Waterway challenges your paddleboarding skills and it was the only place where I came across an alligator. On Shem Creek, you are likely to see dolphin and if you are fortunate enough, the illusive manatee. In addition, you can grab a beer or burger at one of its numerous waterside restaurants and watering holes. Folly Creek offers wide open waters that are home to pods of dolphin and one of the places I had the rare pleasure of witnessing strand-feeding. You will also paddle past a famous sunken boat. I enjoy them all, but Morgan Creek and Folly Creek are my favorite choices for a day on the water.

If you need to rent a board, Ocean Fitness is right on the marina with a large selection of paddleboards.

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