Sometimes, you just have to pack up the ski and hit the road. Last year I was itching to put my office job far from my mind and immerse myself in a solid week of paddling. I was already going to be traveling for a race, so I decided to turn that trip into a week of paddling exploration. I also decided this would be a great opportunity to meet some people from the Facebook paddling community that I’ve corresponded with but never met.
It started with a drive from my hometown of Chattanooga, TN to Santee, South Carolina to race surf ski at the North Shore Cup put on by EliteOceanSports, LLC. This is where I finally got to meet Mark Smith, and Wesley Echols. The Elite team of Mark Smith and Mark Mackenzie put on an incredible race and a first place finish in the four mile race was a sweet way to start my trip off.
From there I drove south with a stop to paddle my SUP on the Santilla river in Georgia. The Santilla is a beautiful tidal river flat that had nearly as much suspended mud as water. This paddle was a nice respite from driving and was right off I-95. I had brought my SUP to paddle any waterways that could damage my ski, but as we’ll see later, I should have stuck to this plan.
I then pushed south to Paddleboard New Smyrna Beach to demo some OC-1 outriggers and got to meet Erik Lumbert, a hell of a great guy. Unfortunately, the OC-1 I paddled was so nice I was bitten by the bug. I ended up buying one a year later.
I stayed overnight in New Smyrna Beach and started the day off with a sunrise run on the beach followed by 8 miles of paddling my surf ski in a mangrove river that had more twists and turns than I could count! Lots of wind, current and shallows made that paddle fun and challenging. Luckily my Think Uno Max slices against current like it's barely there.
Finally I headed south to refuel spent calories and rest at my parents in Palm Bay, FL. I did manage to get a sweet but extremely windy paddle on canals in some flooded plains in a wilderness area off the St. Johns River. My SUP proved to be a good choice for plowing through some of the hyacinth choked sections.
After a few days of gorging on my Mom's cooking, I headed over to St. Pete's where I got to paddle with Christian Cook on his awesome OC-2. This was a sweet canal run with an open ocean light downwind return. Paddling outrigger with Christian is a rare treat to soak up some knowledge. As the size of the swells diminished, I’ll never forget him saying “the small ones pay the bills Brother!”
I ended up camping at Fort Desoto campground and enjoyed a nice fire for my last night in Florida. The next morning I had a sweet but all too short downwind run on my SUP, but I had to terminate due to shallows and no possible way back due to the intensity of the wind. My walk back to the starting point revealed I had paddled much farther than it felt surfing those swells.
The next day I decided to head north with a brief stop to paddle to the Suwannee river. Unfortunately, it was very brief and catastrophic. This turned out to be a run I should have used the SUP for. The Suwannee is jet black water due to the tannic acid content.
Trying to beat a setting sun, I was rocketing down the river on my Uno Max and hit a submerged rock with the rudder. This bent the rudder back hard enough to jam the back portion into the hull. I decided this omen meant the paddling gods were done pleasing me so I packed up and put a hard drive home. Thankfully a friend of mine is a master boat doctor and she repaired the ski to a like new condition. Sometime later that season I got back to that river but paddled it in my antique Futura ski with a kick up rudder and had a blast. One of my favorite bodies of water anywhere and a must do paddle.
If you’ve never done an extended road trip with paddling as the focus, you really owe it to yourself. I felt like a new person when I was done. Something about exploring new paddling locations is really invigorating. Combining it with old friends you don’t see often, and paddling with people you’ve never met is icing on the cake