You think North Carolina is THE SOUTH if you come from Indiana until you go to South Carolina and you hear vowels so round you could play basketball with them. You think North Carolina is THE SOUTH until you see this sign outside a restaurant in South Carolina:
Something happens on the drive between Wilmington and Charleston. More Spanish moss grows on the trees. The air thickens. Time slows down. Everything slows down. Until you get to Charleston and then your desire to eat fatty fatty southern food and shop along King Street speeds up. It's disorienting (and not just because of the mime/clown fights on the water).
The Heat is On
My long-suffering husband Joe and I packed up our entire house and went to Charleston for a long weekend. Arriving Thursday, we went straight to work, shopping at Charleston Watersports and Half Moon Outfitters (Well, suddenly we both needed new shoes!), and heading to Sullivan's Island to eat burgers at Poe's. That whole day I was still moaning about the heat. It had only been four days since my near-death experience at Onslow Bay.
Let me tell you: heat injuries are nothing to mess with. It took the whole week to recover, and I still had to watch it. A mere 7 days after Onslow, I voluntarily went to Charleston for the Shem Creek Shootout. Charleston in July. What an awesome idea!?! But Joe loves Chucktown, so I knew I could just say "Vacay in Charleston?" leave out the part about the paddle race in there, and get an enthusiastic "Yes!" Until we got there, upon which there was a lot of "Katie, stop shrieking about the heat. And if you don't do the race, I'm going to take you to the pier and throw you in the Harbor." Can you over-electrolyte? It's possible I pushed the boundaries.
Paddle Family Reunion
The only thing missing from this weekend was The Paddlefather. (And Alex, VanGor's twin brother.) Charleston beats Wilmington in fancy drink bars, charcuterie, and shopping, but Wilmington brings the party when it comes to paddleboarding. Over the past couple of years the towns have become like sister cities leading the East Coast paddle revolution. While checking in (It was a chilly 105 degrees at Red's Ice House.), I heard Damon Licari say "Maybe your people won't win all the prizes this time." Sorry Damon! The Charlestonians have been so great about motoring to Wilmington for races, that I thought it was high time I got my butt down there for one of theirs. Y'all need to schedule some more races during the winter! Lots of sweaty hugs hello and beer bottle clinking later and everyone was ready to roll the next morning.
Have Board Will Travel
Here's the learning part of the column. It can't all be about shopping and drinking. I had never traveled to a far-away-staying-in-a-hotel-race before. Not only did I have to take regular vacation stuff, including about 12 books to read and three swimsuits, I also had to pack the paddle and race gear for a race with 96 degree ambient air temperatures. Things to think about when you're traveling and racing:
- Water: Can you drink the hotel water, or should you bring big gallons from the grocery store?
- Ice: Will your hotel room have a fridge? If so, bring ice packs. If not, bring ziploc bags you can fill from the ice machine.
- Snacks and food: You can't wake up and eat yogurt. If you're VanGor (April Zilg) you have to eat 4 hours before the race. That means pre-gaming and locating your breakfast spot so you can be stealthy slipping out of the hotel room in the morning to go eat. Without waking up your roommates. Or not. If the race is from a restaurant or hotel, you might have limited food options. Bring healthy snacks so you're not vomiting fried shrimp all over the place.
- PFD, leash, etc. Don't leave home without your normal paddle gear, including your PFD and whistle. Check local leash laws. If you're coming to Wrightsville Beach for a race in the ocean, you'd better have a leash.
- Clothes and towels: Bring along several beach towels, some post race clothing, your visor, your rash guards, etc. By this point, you are probably up to a rolling suitcase.
- Locking racks or straps: I stored my board at Charleston Watersports (THANK YOU) all weekend, but my friends had four boards on top of their car. I would feel very nervous about leaving the board anywhere without locking straps. Paddleboarding is starting to become popular, so board stealing will probably become a "thing" if you're out and about. $80 locking straps are cheaper than replacing a $2,000 board. I have Yakima kayak straps that I use with my regular roof rack.
- Tools: Ha ha! "This girl is CRAZY," you are now thinking. However, it is helpful to have extra twine or string, duct tape, binder clips, stickers, etc. for jerry-rigging your gear on the go. Don't forget the screwdriver for your fin.
All that plus sunscreen and I was ready for the six or so hours of my vacation that constituted the "race." While walking back to the bar after the race, I ran into Kim Sutton who said "I'm in awe at the amount of stuff you drag around." Me too, Kim. My other three friends somehow fit a whole weekend into their tiny car. I've never packed light.
The Main Event
Oh, wait. Even though that is the best drink both Marissa and I have ever had ever in our whole lives, that's not the main event. This is:
The Shootout started with a record number of participants. It's a fun paddle from Red's to the mouth of the creek. Then you're out into the Charleston Harbor, which is like a washing machine set on getting-out-football-grass-stains-from-a-muddy-Saturday. According to Danielle Licari, we experienced a calm day. Well. I need more practice. The rec race paddled along Crab Bank, which is interesting from upwind and stinky downwind. At that point in the race, I was still upright and trying, so I didn't take any pictures of the thousands of birds flying (and pooing) all over the island. Rounding the buoy to come back, I cruised until I fell off. This is the other learning opportunity for newbies: Don't sunscreen your knees or hands. I was so slippery and the Harbor was so washy that I kept trying to stand up and immediately fell off. So, I worked on perfecting my ass paddling technique and taking pictures from my phone with my new LifeProof phone case:
I am justifying all of this non-competitive nature by saying "I'm the paddle journalist. I write 'View from the Back'. Ergo, I should be in the back–where I can see things." It doesn't matter anyway. Somebody else had a hard time with the chop. I told him "There's no shame in sitting down for a while if you need to."
We're in it for the Socializing
The race takes about an hour. The pre-race, post-race recreation takes days.
For example: the only way to celebrate the fact that April won first in Women's Elite, Sharna won first in Women's Rec and Marissa won second in Women's rec was to go to Sunday brunch at the Gin Joint in Downtown Charleston and toast each other (again). Joe didn't know that people could talk about nothing but paddleboarding and gear for 5 hours, go to sleep, and follow it up with a two hour recap. He does now.
Which Made Him Want a Drink
Joe's only must-do was to get a drink at the Bar at Husk. Husk is a schmancy restaurant in downtown Charleston on Queen Street. The food is really good, if pricey. The bar is much more laid back, and they make everything in all of their drinks by hand. Want a Triple Lindy? Oh, they'll cut the watermelon right in front of you and muddle it there. Marissa and I had what were, essentially, tomato salads in a glass. Think Bloody Mary but oh so fresh. At least he could tune out the incessant paddle talk for a while while sipping his Manhattan.
Which Brings us back to Jack Daniels
No, Husk doesn't serve Jack Daniels. And none of us were so lit up that we were dangerous, unless you count texting your friend every ten minutes to ask if someone had claimed the dog they found over July 4th, demanding that if the dog's owners don't show, you get the dog. That's how we got Jack Daniels Elzer-Peters, III, my new SUP Dog.
On the way home we were notified that Jack would be ours. His name was already Jack, but being in Charleston for a weekend addled my brain. A good southern dog needs two first names. A good southerner is nothing without a ,Jr. or , II or ,III after his name. Or maybe I read too many historical markers during my trip. Jack went for his first paddle on Tuesday morning, and he didn't try to jump off. We're going to work up to me standing up while he sits down to cruise. I went to Charleston to race, but I came home with a dog. Next time maybe I should just buy a purse.