Typically, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the lowcountry is the Marsh. Charleston's famed landscape has inspired painters and writers, and has been known to leave many speechless upon their first sight of it. The marsh is an outdoor enthusiast's playground. Paddlers, fishermen, and SUP-ers frequent Charleston's tidal flats everyday. It is one thing to observe the ebb and flow of the Spartina grass, or to watch the pelicans fly low over the incoming tide from afar, but to really appreciate the marsh you've got to step inside of it. Whether it's paddling down a tidal creek, or catching a glimpse of the low angled sun going down behind the live oaks, there's something magical about spending time in the marsh. Here are a few basic rules of thumb that can help you get out to the marsh and have a blast while you're there:
1. Boats vs. Boards
Your paddling transportation on the water will most likely be either a kayak or a SUP board. Both of these are great for paddling around in the marsh, but it depends on where you're planning to go, and how long your trip is. If you want to head out to do some touring, stick to the kayak. The folks at Half Moon Outfitters can hook you up with the best demo boats in town, and you will be glad with your decision when you're battling an incoming tide. You can also take along a lot more gear on a kayak. Bring a cooler with some local food and brews, maybe a beach towel, and you'll be set up nicely for a beach-side picnic. Paddleboards are great for short trips up tidal creeks, or for scouting around the marsh in between tides. The fins on paddleboards tend to collect a lot of the dead grass, and act much like an emergency brake once in the marsh.
If you feel a little overwhelmed trying to use a map, don't feel bad about it. This is the 21st century, there's an app for that. A couple of convenient smart phone applications are Google Earth, and a basic tide chart. Both of these apps are free, and will save you from going up against an epic tide, as well as paddling half way to Africa. Google Earth shows you exactly where you are in relation to your destination, and approximately how far away you are from it. A tidal chart will let you know what time low and high tide will occur, and how big the tide will be. Typically a strong flood tide is any where from 5.5 to 7.5 feet on a tide chart, and when a flood tide rolls in, you'd better hope your paddling with it rather than against it.
To state the obvious, bring a PFD (personal flotation device). You may think of it as a hassle, but there could easily come a time when you really need it, and it's better to be safe than sorry. For those long tours, sunscreen, hats, or clothing that's upf 40+ will be your best friends. If you plan on using your smart phone for navigation, Life Proof, Otterbox, and Ecase make great protective cases for electronics, and Sea To Summit makes the best dry bags on the market. Another piece of gear you might think about taking is a pair of flats shoes. If you decide to walk around on a tidal flat, which is a firm portion of the marsh, you're going to want a pair of shoes that will save you from blue crabs, sting rays, and those pesky fiddler crabs. Flats shoes look like rubber slippers, and should fit tight around your feet and calves. Keep these items close and you will be ready for a long, enjoyable time out on the Marsh.