Classic Paddle: The Georgia Coast

A couple of weekends ago Bryan Smith came into town to get footage for the series ‘The Classics’. These are a series of ‘shorts’ depicting certain classic locations for various outdoor activities…climbing, skiing, sea kayaking etc. We were glad to oblige, but why come here? Is the Georgia coast really a classic? And what makes a classic?

I never really thought of the GA coast as a classic place to sea kayak. We came here over 10 years ago because this part of the world was off the beaten track, a little known coastal tapestry of woven marsh creeks, rivers and barrier islands, with no solid coastal path. Moving up from south Florida, Georgia’s warm climate, sub-tropical flora and lack of human development was also a strong pull. It was then, and still partly remains today the east coast’s best kept secret. So what makes this a good choice for ‘The Classics’?

Physical challenge, great scenery, good company, and interaction with local flavor’ was my reply, when Bryan asked me ‘what makes a classic kayak trip?’ The GA coast most definitely does have all this. But is it really your classic kayak destination?

Our coastline is very short…only 100 miles long, and very shallow...a mere fathom in many places. There are no headlands protruding out into the sea. There are no rocky outcrops, cliffs, caves, stacks or ledges. In fact, there is not a piece of indigenous rock, or substantial elevation anywhere to be seen. There are no bays or harbors. There is no heaving Atlantic swell pulsing on to our shores and we seldom get fog. This is not the edge of the world. In fact, all the elements you conjure up for a classic sea kayak destination do not befall our shores.

The paddler will leave none the wiser if he thinks of this coast as dull and featureless, but allow yourself to become immersed and you will soon find challenge, hardship, and some great kayak adventure along wild and free beaches with a thick jungle backdrop. Short and shallow with fast currents and shifting shoals the coast is, and many a careless sailor and landlubber alike have been ‘wrecked and washed ashore’. Here you have as much chance of mental rejuvenation as physical exhaustion… as much chance of being shot, as you do drowning. As much chance of being lost, as finding remains of communities from lives past …, and a similar chance of an encounter with a panther as with a President of the United States. The few people on these islands have a simple complexity and a strong bond to the land, the sea and all it provides. They are both the richest and the poorest of peoples, tied together by the roots of nature and the pages of history.

In the 4 days we spent with Bryan, I hope we got some of this across. It’s not easy to capture the essence of the GA coast in so short a time. The GA coast is subtle...like a raw oyster sliding down your throat, or the noble silence of the breeze stirring the spartina, or receding currents leaving ripples on accreting sandbars….it’s a place of time lapse. The GA coast is not in plain view for all to see. It requires planning, deduction, patience, and skill along with an appreciation of the south and all things southern. So, in this regard, yes, it could be a classic coast upon which to journey …in fact, a ‘classic’ classic.