The freedom, seclusion and closeness with nature are what draw many, both old and young, to kayaking in southeastern North Carolina. The areas around New Hanover County like the black rivers, the lower Cape Fear River, salt marshes, inlets and oceans have been favorites for kayakers long before paddlers of the standup variety arrived.
While most beginners stick to leisurely paddles around flat water, more experienced kayakers can branch out into kayak surfing or kayak fishing as well.
Chris Tryon, Hook, Line and Paddle co-owner, said kayak fishing is his favorite way to enjoy the water. With no motor, Tryon said kayak fishing allows an element of stealth that fishermen on a boat do not have.
For kayak fishing, Tryon said the public accesses of the lower Cape Fear River are his favorites, with the Fort Fisher access ranking first and River Road Park second. Common catches for Tryon throughout those areas of the river are reds, flounder and trout.
When he has free time, longtime kayak instructor Walter Mayo’s favorite way to spend a day in his kayak is surfing one of the many breaks along Wrightsville Beach, Masonboro Island or Carolina Beach.
The inlets along those beaches provide the most challenge for experienced kayak surfers in the area, Mayo said.
“It gives you currents and swell,” Mayo said. “At my level of kayaking that is what I enjoy a lot … you get thrown around a little more and it is a little more aggressive, athletic and technical.”
However, when Tyron and Mayo are not casting a line or battling inlet waves, a simple paddle through one of the parks in New Hanover County can whet their kayaking appetites just as well.
Mayo, of Paddle NC, leads excursions into winding salt marsh trails.
“We do a lot of day trips in the basin behind Zeke’s Island and a lot of people like that because you can paddle into the salt marshes,” Mayo said. “Typically they like that because it is calmer water, sheltered, there is a lot of wildlife and it gives you a nice feeling of seclusion. I think that is one of the major appealing things about kayaking, that it offers a sense of seclusion.”
While gliding through the fertile fisheries that are the salt marshes, each bend in the trail may surprise an egret, startle a crab or jump a fish.
An area with abundant salt marsh kayaking opportunities is Masonboro Island, with accesses from public boat ramps like Trails End Park.
Tryon said kayakers hoping to explore those marshes should shove off from the dock at least three hours into a rising tide to get the most out of the paddle as more and more paths open with the rising water line.
As for the rest of the county, Tryon said another one of his favorite paddles is on the Northeast Cape Fear River from River Side Park in Castle Hayne. This paddle offers a tour of the Black River environment, which varies greatly from the coastal paddle trails because it is more sheltered and has a different collection of wildlife.
For longer paddles during the day, Tryon suggested packing water, a snack, good paddling shoes, a small to medium dry bag for rain gear, and a life jacket and whistle, which are required for a trip of any length.
Mayo said overnight kayaking trips can be another way to enjoy the seclusion of kayaking.
“Overnight trips are one of my favorite things to do because you are getting out there and away from the crowds,” he said. “You can make the paddle as long or as short as you want and as fast as you want.”
Mayo said campsites for overnight kayaking trips could be found along Masonboro Island and on some of the dredge spoil islands in the lower Cape Fear River. Important gear to pack for those trips includes light cook wear, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, a minimal amount of clothing with paddling clothes and dry clothes, and a soft cooler packed with light food that will stay dry.
No matter how long the paddle is, Mayo said kayaking is still a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
“One of the nice things about it is you are only thinking about and dealing with one thing,” Mayo said. “When you are working or at home you are dealing with so many things in your life, but when you are out on the water paddling, it calms everything down and brings you into the moment. You are only worried about putting your paddle in the water and gliding along.”
For a map of all New Hanover County public water access points, visit parks.nhcgov.com
For a list of all Wrightsville Beach public water accesses, visit www.townofwrightsvillebeach.com