5 Adventurous Ways to Hit the Water on the Crystal Coast

Kayaking the Crystal Coast, North Carolina.
Kayaking the Crystal Coast, North Carolina. Jack
Made Possible by
Curated by

As its name implies, the Crystal Coast is home to some of the most pristine and clear water that can be found along the East Coast. Thousands of visitors tour this North Carolina shoreline every year, taking advantage of all the unique ways to connect with the water. The Gulf Stream’s close proximity to the shore facilitates adventure seekers' ability to interact with the ocean, and you'll find even more ways to enjoy the area as you look inland to the Intracoastal Waterway, rivers, inlets and creeks. If you plan on visiting this special part of North Carolina, here are five ways to make the most of that crystal clear water.

1. Diving

Perhaps the Crystal Coast’s most well-known tourist attractions are the multitude of shipwrecks that lie within its boundaries. The wrecks are the result of centuries of ill-fated journeys, from wooden ships of pirate days wrecked on barrier island rocks to German U-boats targeting merchant ships during WWII, all of which left this area covered in downed vessels accessible to scuba divers today. There are more than 200 underwater dive sites to choose from, and the water clarity offers divers an incredible view of this graveyard of vessels. To see for yourself, visit Olympus Dive Center for more information on how to plan your dive.

2. Surfing

When the waves are right, surfers are drawn to the Crystal Coast.
When the waves are right, surfers are drawn to the Crystal Coast. Calvin Webster

For you East Coast surfers that are reading this, you already know that the Atlantic can be your best friend, but more often than not, your worst enemy. For visitors looking to surf during your trip to the Crystal Coast, make sure you check the surf forecast and look at historical buoy data for the area you want to try to surf prior to committing to any particular spot. Decent swell along the Carolina coast is few and far between, but when the waves turn on, you will have the time of your life. Bring your longboard, or rent one from Atlantic Beach Surf Shop, and try to time your trip when the waves are 3 feet and glassy, and slide away.

3. Kayaking

Paddling the Crystal Coast, North Carolina.
Paddling the Crystal Coast, North Carolina. Donald Lee Pardue

Access to a kayak means the ability to experience all kinds of different water along the Crystal Coast. From touring the marsh behind Emerald Isle, to kayak surfing Atlantic Beach, paddling gives you a different perspective of your surroundings, and grants access to otherwise impenetrable parts of the coastline. For visitors, head to Beaufort Paddle, which offers rentals, instruction, and local tours. Explore the Rachel Carson Reserve, where you'll find wild horses at play in the dunes and dolphins swimming nearby. Down East Kayaks in Straits, N.C, near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, also offers rentals and tours, where you can explore the salt marshes and tidal creeks. You'll most likely see a wide variety of sea birds, including osprey, great blue heron, ibis, and snowy egret as you travel through Core Sound, Black Sound, and more. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, guided kayak tours are the way to go. A kayak is one of the best ways to explore arguably the most beautiful barrier island system along the East Coast.

4. Kiteboarding

Take to the water, and skies, by kiteboarding.
Take to the water, and skies, by kiteboarding. C Watts

If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, look no further than Blown Kiteboarding for your opportunity to harness the power of the Crystal Coast’s powerful gusts. Kiteboarding is the surfer’s answer to windy, choppy conditions, using the wind to glide across the ocean and the waves to catch even more air than what’s already in your kite. This sport is not for the faint of heart; it’s a pure rush that can be physically demanding, but easier to learn than you’d expect. If you’re less experienced, consider taking lessons. If you’re a seasoned vet, the Crystal Coast has strong wind almost year-round, and is the perfect place to spend a vacation focused on kiteboarding.

5. Paddleboarding

Paddleboarders have a reputation for taking their sport to the next level, and the SUP community along the Crystal Coast is no different. This sport lets you incorporate other activities like fishing and surfing, making a paddleboard the Swiss Army Knife of your outdoor adventure kit. If you want to get the most out of your trip to the Crystal Coast, strap a paddleboard to your roof rack and go explore every tidal inlet, creek, and marsh area you come across. On calm, windless mornings, head out onto the open ocean for some touring. The odds are high that you’ll come across some interesting marine life paddling offshore of the Crystal Coast’s protected beaches.

The Crystal Coast is a paddler’s playground, and the perfect place to explore everything the North Carolina coastline has to offer. It’s safe to say that for visitors looking to plan a trip based on watersports and underwater adventuring, look no further than the Crystal Coast. The vast expanse of pristine coastline and ease of access to so many different types of water will leave you wondering why it took you so long to visit.

Originally written for Crystal Coast NC.

Last Updated:

Next Up


10 Reasons Why You Should Visit the Crystal Coast in the Spring


How to Have an Adventurous Ladies Weekend on the Crystal Coast (and Why You Should)