How to Love Kayaking
I was fortunate in the fact that I grew up surrounded by water. Being from Florida and then vacationing on Ocracoke every year my parents ensured that I was comfortable swimming and enjoying all that the oceans, lakes, and rivers have to offer. It is because of this that as an adult I feel confident on the water. Kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, and surfing (still learning this one) are where I find my zen.
I moved to Ocracoke in 2020, not knowing like much of the world that everything was going to change. Our island shut down during that time and to protect ourselves from this dangerous virus visitors were not allowed. I was in this quasi-state of not being necessarily a visitor but not having lived on the island long enough to be a resident. Because of this, I could not leave the island for fear I would not be able to get back on. Additionally, like everyone else around the world I was terrified and overwhelmed. During this time I turned to the water.
My boyfriend, now husband, and I took advantage of the island to the fullest during this time. We spent many days kayaking up and down the island, enjoying the quiet and listening to the birds. We would hop up and down the coast of the island and stop by little beaches every now and then to see what had washed up in previous storms and what little treasures we could find. We would talk about anything and in some ways it is how we fell in love.
Now, as things have returned to normal, we don’t get the luxury of spending entire days kayaking up the side of the island, but I have the luxury of being able to share the joy of kayaking with visitors. Starting last year I began providing kayak tours through Ride the Wind and multiple times a week I get to show why kayaking on Ocracoke is the best. I teach people that everyone can enjoy the water in a way that makes them comfortable.
I always say Ocracoke is special, and one of the ways it is special is the geographic orientation of the island. Unlike much of the Outer Banks which run directly north to south, Ocracoke is caddy corner, and our village juts out directly into the sound side of the island. Every time you are kayaking from the village you are going into Pamlico Sound, which is calmer than the ocean, hardly has any waves, and most importantly is shallow. The average depth of the Sound is around 6 feet. Oftentimes when I take people out kayaking I remind them of this fact and I also hav
e them take their paddle and dig it into the water (normally you can hit the sand with your paddle). This comforts many people who may not feel the most comfortable on the water or in a kayak. It is a firm reminder that if you do get scared, if the wind starts kicking up, or if you accidentally flip your kayak you will most likely be able to stand. This is especially true if you are staying on the coast and hugging land the entire time. The words I say frequently is “you can always bail”, and by that I mean if you need to stop you can get out of your kayak and walk it and yourself to safety.
Not only do we have the sound, but we also have Silver Lake which is almost completely enclosed. Because of this you can safely paddle around in a space of flat water and enjoy seeing the pelicans scoop up leftovers from the Fish House, hear people enjoying a beautiful afternoon at SmacNally’s, and get a great unobstructed view of the lighthouse. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and want to try out your balance this is also a great place for Stand-Up Paddleboarding. Make sure to have fun and laugh it off when you inevitably fall in the water, also make sure to not bring your phone with you.
I always remind myself to have a clear head when going into the water and I think it is best to go in with this mentality: there is no need to rush, keep your eyes and ears open to the small details, and have a healthy respect for the water and know your boundaries. So many times in life we are going fast, but kayaking is one of the few places you can go slow. It is not a race to get to your location as fast as you can; the whole point is to glide across the water and go at a pace that brings you peace. The areas that surround us are hiding spots for diamondback terrapins, blue herons and egrets, skates, hermit crabs and more. Keep your eyes open to the water line and the trees and take in the small details. Each time I’m out I find something new that I haven’t seen before, and these things humble me and remind me that there is no mundanity to life. Lastly, if the weather seems too strong, if you are feeling too tired, or if anything feels off, get out of your kayak, paddle to the closest shore you see, or just don’t go.
Enjoy yourself and enjoy the water and maybe you will fall in love with kayaking too.
- All kayaks need to have a PFD or lifejacket in the boat with them per coast guard regulations and anyone under 13 needs to be wearing one at all times. Different rental companies may have different rules regarding ages and regarding wearing them.
- Since kayaks don’t have motors you do not need a boating license (hooray), but you do need lights on your kayak if you are out between sunset and sunrise.
- Do not operate a kayak while under the influence.
- Make sure to tell someone where you are and where you are going, especially if you intend to kayak by yourself. Although the waters are mostly safe we are still just a tiny sand bar.
- There are limited places inside the village to launch your kayaks, but one such place is the NPS boat ramps at the end of Highway 12 where the Cedar Island/Swan Quarter ferries dock. Outside of the village the National Parks Service provides many launch locations on the sound side of the island. I suggest the one next to the Hammock Hills Nature Trail across from the Campground. Additional locations can be found here, or talk to a ranger at the Visitor Center for more locations and help.