Paddling South from NYC
Thought I could start to lay out what I know of other places in the North East besides New York City, although I could write about the NYC waters in depth, and I will once we get our paddles wet on a regular basis when spring comes around. I still very much plan to paddle north form New York and explore the more rocky coastline of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and beyond, but for now, let us travel down the coast a bit.
The oceanfront coast of the state south of New York starts at Sandy Hook and ends at the Delaware Bay. Both tricky places to paddle. A river meets the ocean at Sandy, creating strong incoming and outgoing tides in the bay. The cape’s rip currents are famous, especially during ebb tide. Both bays are major shipping channel transited by cruise ships and cargo ships. Sandy Hook is exactly that. A long, rounded, sandy piece of land that boarders the north end. Beyond that, the coast of New Jersey climbs up the Hudson River west of New York. At the south tip of the state, we have the lovely town of Cape May, on the north end of the Delaware Bay. In between these two points, the coast of New Jersey aims straight south, its barrier islands are flat and highly populated, which made hurricane Sandy back in 2012 a major disaster.
You’ll hear Sandy stories on every corner. It’s long gone but still has a strong presence on the islands. Many homeowners are still struggling to get back in their homes because of funding issues, rebuilding permits and municipal bureaucracy. Not something you would notice when you visit, as most businesses and boardwalks have been replaced and reopened.
The paddling community is extensive. With an abundance of water activities to do, you can find plenty of SUP specific shops or surf shops that have adopted SUP along the coast, and with easy access to both ocean and bay, you can pick what to explore. Favorite places in New Jersey: Seaside Heights, Right Coast Surf Shop, Betty And Nick’s Bait & Tackle where right next to the shop, you can sit down and eat the most delicious pancakes you will ever have- Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, The Chicken or The Egg for amazing breakfast, wings, burgers, all of it- South End Surf and Paddle, and Cape May.
Across the Delaware Bay you’ll find, for a brief distance, the state of Delaware. Lewes Beach is a very picturesque town where the cross-bay ferry stops on the south side. Some of my favorite things in Lewes were Dogfish Inn, Hotel Rodney, the Notting Hill Coffee Roastery, the cobble stone streets and the coffee shops.
The coast becomes a bit more dune-y and less populated. Sections of the coast are protected and belong to state or national parks. Rehoboth and Indian River Bays are beautiful. The small creeks that make their way from Lewes to these bays are worth exploring. There are a few towns on the coast that during the summer are buzzin’, such as Bethany Beach and Fennwick. Assawoman Wildlife Area is a paddlers paradise with endless creeks and abundant wildlife to observe.
Entering Maryland, there is an extensive water trail on the Intercoastal Waterway with designated camping spots all the way down through the north side of Virginia. Although very short, it’s beautiful. Assateague, an island that’s part of the National Seashore for instance, is beautiful and a place where you’ll find ponies! Maryland doesn’t extend too far south, in fact, part of Assateague drips into Virginia.
Unlike the state to its north, the coast of Virginia goes on for a while and it’s split by the Chesapeake Bay. On the north side of the bay, if you take a look at a map, you’ll see that between mainland and the barrier islands there’s a vast body of water occupied only by marsh and more marsh, one sandy spot and then more marsh. It’s perfect farming grounds for oysters, muscles and clams. In fact, the few towns that are on the east side of the mainland, are all fishing towns. At 6:00 am you’ll find the harbors buzzing. Fishermen gather at their boats and leave as the sun comes up. Towns like Wachapreague, Quinby and Oyster are very quiet while everyone is out.
Navigating these marshes is tricky. The water level is super low in the bay, so when the tide goes out in some spots there’s less than half a foot of water. The Intercoastal Waterway is very well marked and has to be dragged constantly or else the mud takes over and prevents navigation. Even for kayaks or paddleboards, at low tide, there’s not enough water to dip your blade and if you don’t sink into the pluff mud beneath your vessel when you try to walk, you’ll be stepping on endless oyster reefs. Both equally fun to paddle or portage over.
Out on the barrier islands you’ll find nothing but vegetation. They’re uninhabited, being so far from land and exposed, urban life would not be sustainable out there. But if well planned, I bet that’s a great area to go explore.
Across the Chesapeake Bay, you’ll find Virginia Beach. Great, great town. Amazing seafood and watersports friendly. VB extends from the ocean to the bay, giving you, again, the option to explore sea or creeks or bay. Although the currents here are also something to be aware of. Know before you go, always. Check out Tula Adventure Sports and Adventure Kayak Tours for good fun.
Next, home to the tallest dune on the east coast, North Carolina’s coastline is diverse and extensive. The all too famous Outer Banks, Currituck and Pamlico Sounds, then farther south to the Carolina Cup’s host beach town, Wrightsville Beach, and then the Cape Fear River. There you have the endless list of sunken ships, the lighthouses, the sailors’ stories. North Carolina feels like the first state with a deep connection to the ocean that hugs its coast.
On the sea side of the barrier islands, water levels are so low that they are tricky to navigate for big ships, which is why there are so many shipwrecks, along with pirate tales and lore. There are also a ton of lighthouses and lightships to signal ships where the treacherous conditions are. Fun fact: The old Cape Fear lightship, The Frying Pan, rests on the Hudson River in Manhattan’s hip neighborhood Chelsea, as a bar, and former really funky club. Water laws were different from land laws in regards to bars once upon a time and the Frying could be open until well after sunrise. It is now attached to an old railroad barge, where locals and tourists admire the sunset views while enjoying a burger or crab cakes and a cold one. But back to the Tar Heel State!
On the sound side of the Outer Banks, water levels are also not that high. In fact, depending on where the wind comes from, it pushes the water up or down the sounds and water accumulates on a corner, leaving levels even lower up wind. Without water depth, conditions can get gnarly fast with inclement weather. Both along the sounds and heading west following the coast, the islands and Intercoastal Waterway’s surrounding lands are all populated. The towns of Rodanthe, Avon, Frisco, Hatteras, Ocracoke, Beaufort and Wilmington are all amazing places to visit, stop and spend time.
Ocracoke is a top three favorite place on the East Coast.Its harbor is small but active. There’s a ferry that crosses the sound from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island. A long 2.5 hour crossing. The coffee shops are great, the houses and streets are lovely, the town itself has a great vibe. And for those of you that prefer craft beers, Zillie’s Island Pantry is the perfect spot.
West of Ocracoke you’ll find Portsmouth, an abandoned old town that the state has preserved for folks to take the ferry over and walk around and experience traveling back in time. Full of stories of first settlers from back in 1750s, Portsmouth was a commercial hub. Not the only a place that offers historical evidence, but this one was particularly interesting because it looks and feels stuck in the 1800, even though it was finally abandoned in late 1900s.
Cape Fear Region
South and west bound, my next favorite spot has to be no other than Wrightsville Beach. Why is it so special? Well, it’s hard to explain. Food, for starters, is delicious. At Oceanic I had the best scallops of my life, also the tacos at Tower 7, the coffee at SUNdays Surf cafe and The Workshop. Over in Wilmington, Palate is a great craft beer spot, and coffee and pastries at Folks Cafe. But most of all, Wrightsville is a magnet for amazing paddlers. I have made good friends down there, and it became a meeting point for paddlers as far as Canada and the west coast. Wrightsville is where we all reunite, it brings people together. Few other places do that. If you decide to visit not during a paddling event, check in with the guys at Carolina Paddleboard Co, but of course you already knew that.
These are just some of the places that, although I have visited, will forever be on my list of traveling destinations as I will always go back again and again. Dare I say, before heading west and chasing the California dream, go east! It’s truly a hidden gem and I can’t wait to explore the coast north of home and discover what I’ve been missing. I hear the surf up there is great and the land – sea connection is both historical and part of the daily life. Let’s head North!