Waterways // 5 min Read

Stand-Up Paddleboarding in the Lowcountry

Written by Palmetto Bluff

May 30, 2019

southern coastal homes

Though many mistakenly think that the sport of stand-up paddling originated in the Polynesian Islands centuries ago, it is relatively new. Yes, there were probably Tahitian fishermen standing up in outrigger canoes to search for fish, but the sport essentially started as a result of post-World War II tourism in Hawaii, more specifically Waikiki, when surfing was the coolest new thing to do. People were trying out surfing and wanted to be photographed on a board. The surf guides (“Beach boys” as they were called. No, not the band.) Were asked to take the photos. There were no waterproof cameras at the time, so prone paddling would not work. At some point, the ingenious beach boys decided to use an outrigger canoe paddle like an oar and paddle while standing, keeping the camera dry. Thus, a new sport was born. At the time, it was known as “beach boy surfing.”

This went on through the 60s and 70s until surfboards got shorter and waterproof cameras became more prevalent. After that, the practice of standing on a board and paddling died out until the summer of 2000. During that summer, Hawaii experienced a very long flat spell. There was no surf. During the wave lull, the serious watermen began looking for a fun way to stay in shape. Guys such as Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, and Brian Keaulana grabbed outrigger canoe paddles, jumped on their tandem surfboards, and started paddling for fitness. “Beach boy surfing” was resurrected. The surf press published photos in magazines around the world of these guys standing up, paddling boards. This became the cool new way to surf without needing a wave.

Like Hawaii during the flat spell, the waters surrounding the Lowcountry of South Carolina are ideal for stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, offering beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. Much of the year, the water is warm, calm, and flat.

Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned paddler, there are many excellent SUP programs offered in the region and here at Palmetto Bluff.

For those new to the sport, the 90-minute Intro to Stand-Up Paddleboarding clinic is offered at Palmetto Bluff every day. For families with children ages 12 and under, we have a specially designed family intro course.

The Stand-Up Nature Walk is a two-hour tour designed for folks who have at least basic paddling experience. Your expert guide will lead you through winding creeks looking for dolphins and other wildlife.

The SUP Outback is a four-hour tour that combines a boat ride to a private chain of islands with a paddleboard nature tour of the marsh creeks on the back side of Daufuskie Island.

If you are looking for a fantastic workout, the 90-minute SUP Yoga class will give you a fresh take on the ancient art of yoga. With the salt marsh as your scenery, flow through this vinyasa experience while keeping your balance on your board.

If you have some experience and would prefer to hit the waves or the creeks on your own, our paddleboard rentals are a great option. Hourly rentals are available on the water at Palmetto Bluff, or rent by the day, and hit the water wherever you choose!


Be safe. Before launching at a new location, always ask a knowledgeable local guide for advice. Local guide companies will gladly offer free guidance. Here are a few of the things a local guide should advise you about.

Oysters: Located adjacent to the marsh in all the small creaeks and not visible at higher tides, oysters are razor-sharp. It is best to paddle a new location at low tide to learn where the oyster beds are located, so you can safely paddle around them at high tide.

Currents: During full and new moons, the tidal currents can be quite strong. When the wind is blowing out of the west, the outgoing tidal current is stronger than usual. Do not paddle into shallow creeks on outgoing tide, or you may find yourself with too little water to get back out. It is never a good idea to paddle into shallow creeks, as there is the danger of your fin hitting the bottom throwing you off-balance, possibly dumping you into an oyster bed.

During the summer months, the best time to paddle is before 1:00 p.m. Why? Typically, a breeze picks up in the afternoon, and the chop can create challenging conditions. Also, aim to paddle before 10:00 a.m. On the weekends because there will be fewer boaters.

The law requires that you have a personal flotation device (PFD) and a whistle.

If you are surfing at the beach, wear a leash that attaches your leg to the board.


Here are a few locations to take a lesson or a guided tour or rent a paddleboard to explore on your own.

Wilson Landing, Palmetto Bluff

Sales, rentals, lessons, and tours to the public are available at Palmetto Bluff. Rentals are available seven days a week. Palmetto Bluff is an ideal location for all skill levels, beginner to advanced. All programs and rentals at Palmetto Bluff launch from a private dock. Please note: There is not a public launch at Palmetto Bluff. Palmetto Bluff property owners and Montage hotel guests may launch their own equipment.

Public Launching Locations

Below are a few of the public locations in southern Beaufort County where you can launch your paddleboard. Please note: The ideal times to launch from public boat ramps are Monday through Friday and early mornings.
Be sure to get out early on weekends and holidays to avoid power boats.

Broad Creek and Shelter Cove Marina, Hilton Head Island

The Shelter Cove Marina location offers rentals, lessons, and tours to the public. Rentals are available seven days a week. Paddling on Broad Creek is ideal for all skill levels, beginner to advanced. You may also launch your private board from Shelter Cove Marina after signing a waiver and paying the $5 launch fee.

The May River and Oyster Factory Park, Bluffton

Located at the end of Wharf Street, this location offers a public dock to launch from and is ideal for beginner to advanced paddlers. There is plenty of parking and a restroom facility. Bring a cooler, and after your paddle, pick out some of the freshest local seafood at the nearby Bluffton Oyster Company.

The Colleton River and Trask Landing, Bluffton

A public dock is located at the end of Sawmill Creek Road across from Tanger Outlets, but there are no restrooms. This is a beautiful location to paddle from; however, the water on the Colleton River can be choppy when the wind is blowing. Be wary of the currents at this location.

Mackay Creek and Pinckney Island Landing, Hilton Head

Paddle Mackay Creek and along the shores of the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. This public boat ramp launch is located between the bridges to Hilton Head Island. Be careful on the ramps leading down to the floating docks. They are steep and slippery at low tide.
It may be difficult to carry your board down. For advanced paddlers, circumnavigation of Pinckney Island is possible if planned properly with the tidal currents.


Photography by Krisztian Lonyai

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