by Lauren Gay
It’s hard to believe that only 4 years ago I had never been in a kayak of any kind, but now kayaking has become a favorite activity for my son and me to do together. Living in Tampa, Florida, the Southeast region affords us good fortune of paddling year-round, since even with cold temperatures the waterways don’t freeze. On a trip to explore the Savannah/Tybee Island region of Georgia in February, my teenage son and I scheduled a kayaking trip with Sea Kayak Georgia to take a three-hour, half-day tour through the Georgia Sea Island waterways and surrounding marshlands. This trip proved to be a very different type of kayaking than my son and I were used to in Florida, but we were up for the challenge, despite never paddling in anything below 70 degrees.
That morning, temperatures were in the 50s, and stiff winds would be a factor, but thankfully our guide, Mary, informed us the wind would be at our back for most of the paddle (emphasis on most). What does one wear for cold weather kayaking? Layers. Our top layer was something equipped for blocking the wind, repelling water, and drying easily. I actually wore ski pants knowing they were insulated and would repel water.
Mary was very knowledgeable and gave us a brief paddle tutorial before taking us to the launching location, just to make sure we would be at ease. Though my son and I have kayaked many times, it didn’t hurt to have a refresher. Another challenge? Using cockpit-style kayaks, something we were not accustomed to, having always used a sit-on-top style. Then Mary introduced us to yet another new thing; we would need to use spray skirts. A spray skirt fits around the lip of the kayak to keep water from getting inside. Mary walked us through the steps of how to put them on, not so easy when wearing so many layers.
We launched from Chimney Creek, meandering through the marshlands, oyster beds on each side. This creek was the curviest we had ever done, but was a great time to practice our paddling turn skills, and we both managed to not crash into the banks or beach ourselves on an oyster bed. We may have been in different weather using different kayaks, but once further into the marshlands away from waterfront homes and docks, the common element of why my son and I love kayaking so much was apparent. There is nothing like the beauty of solitude and the unique vantage point of nature from an angle that can only be achieved by being in the water looking at the shoreline.
Our surroundings were like something from a postcard. Tall grasses swayed in rhythm with the winds, and the sound of our strokes hitting the water was melodic. With the tide being low it revealed the artistic pattern of holes in the mud from the crabs that dwell deep within. Shorebirds soared above us, and at one point we saw a beacon of light from the famous Tybee Island Lighthouse in the distance.
Despite the tough wind, we had only one rough spot where the wind was going against us and we had to work pretty hard. But once conquered, it was smooth sailing. Mary was careful to keep us along the shoreline, shielded from the wind. She pointed out interesting facts about the ecosystem and surrounding waterways. Great egrets, brown pelicans, and American white pelicans are common, as well as dolphins and even the occasional manatee. We saw a few shorebirds during our tour but not much in the way of other wildlife due to the time of year.
Nearing the end of the tour, we paddled to the mouth of Tybee Creek where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. We sat, watching the waves break on the sandbar in the distance, taking it all in. Gazing out at the blue horizon of the ocean was one of those moments where I was reminded of how small we really are in the world. It was a moment of clarity and perspective that I often get when immersed fully into my natural surroundings. If the wind hadn’t been so strong, we would have paddled about half a mile further to Little Tybee Island, an uninhabited nature preserve we could see in the distance. As it was we made our way to a beautiful little stretch of beach where our pick up van was waiting for us.
Throughout the tour we enjoyed talking with Mary, who shared her love of the outdoors and kayaking with us. Her love of the sport was evident and we felt it in the instruction and care she provided. My son and I both felt like we accomplished another great outdoor milestone by having this new kind of kayaking experience. It was challenging and unexpected and required us to step outside our comfort zones. The colder weather, the cockpit kayak, and the abundance of turns in the river propelled our kayaking skills to the next level.
This adventure offers a challenge for even the most experienced paddler, and the beautiful scenery and serenity of the marshlands is a side of Georgia seldom appreciated.
Planning a Visit:
Tybee Island is worth the visit if you find yourself in the Savannah area. It’s different from the southern charm, cobblestone roads, and mossy trees of the Savannah historical district. When you’re on Tybee everything is on Tybee Time, slow and easy. It’s a laid-back town where the streets are lined with beachfront condos, sea turtle shaped street signs, and small unpretentious seafood restaurants and shops.
To reach Tybee Island, head east on US-80 from Savannah for 13 miles. Sea Kayak Georgia is right off of US-80 with beautiful bright kayaks erected in the front yard, so you can’t miss it. Sea Kayak Georgia offers full or half-day kayaking trips through the various creeks and rivers of the area. You can also schedule SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) and canoe tours. The company also offers summertime “Kids Kamps” with SUP and kayak adventures for children aged 10-15.
Disclosure: Lodging and activities (excluding meals) were provided for this story by Visit Tybee.
Lauren Gay lives in Tampa, Florida, and is mom to a teenage son. In addition to kayaking, her family enjoys glamping, hiking, and zip lines. Lauren shares her stories of adventure, travel, and food on her blog, Misadventures of an Outdoorsy Diva.