I find great peace in the ever-changing place called the salt marsh.
The tides come and go. Marsh grass is sometimes fluorescent green, other times it’s devoid of color. At times the water appears crystal clear and at others it’s murky. The marsh, or tidal creek appears different as the light changes, fog rolls in or out. Sunrises or sunsets, moonrises or sets, I find solitude in the salt marsh.
There are hundreds of acres of marsh that I paddle on a stand-up paddleboard, an SUP for short. There is little to no sound from my craft that tops out at around 3 mph and is propelled by my single-blade paddle.
The vantage point of just over 6 feet above the water is where I observe some creatures that are just visitors and others that call the salt marsh their home. Some are there to breed, others to feed. I’m just passing through their habitat as an observer, sometimes with a camera to document and preserve the memories of my paddle.
The marsh is a place where I can observe Kooks to my right, Pogues to my left and I’m right in the middle just doing my own thing.
My children grew up there, I refuse to get old there. My children Alyson and Travis grew up on Pages Creek in northern New Hanover County just outside of the Wilmington city limits. They both were greatly influenced by the marsh and they both developed a respect and appreciation for the water.
My son was so moved by this natural environment that he became a marine biologist and is now teaching and doing research for the next generation so they can help preserve our precious resources.
My daughter lives near a beach on the West Coast. She loves to swim in the ocean when it rarely reaches a comfortable temperature, explores tide pools, runs along the coast and will take in a sunset whenever possible.
On my marsh excursions I have seen otters, sea turtle, dolphin, stingray, shark, terrapin, various jellyfish, bald eagle, osprey, deer, owl, tree frogs, heron, egret, migratory birds, spiders, snakes, a multitude of different fish, spitting oysters and a watercraft or two — or more – on which humans are normally speeding by on their way to somewhere else.
I first started paddling the marsh just over 25 years ago. My mode of transportation in the early years was a sea kayak. I’m also a surfer, so when stand-up paddleboards made their way to Wilmington, I was game for trying it.
The first SUPs were basically just large surfboards. I started out with one of this style board and throughout the years moved up to a displacement hull, which is much more efficient then the early basic SUPs. I can paddle much farther and more efficiently, effectively adding much more mileage to my trips.
My longest rigorous paddle was a 12-mile venture just to challenge myself on a really long paddle. My go-to routes are in the 6- to 8-mile range, which is a relaxing outing for me now.
I enjoy bringing first-time paddlers out into the water. I always paddle at their pace (as long as it’s not faster than I can paddle) so they can relax and not worry about overexerting themselves.
One first-timer was Edwin Toone, who is from Spain and in great shape. He did 6 miles his first time out. We were both treated to seeing a sea horse that day, about an inch in length, swimming in Banks Channel at Wrightsville Beach.
A unique experience was when I discovered a colony of bonnethead sharks behind Masonboro Island. It was a fun summer as I could paddle to my secret spot and normally see the smallest member of the hammerhead shark family within a few minutes.
The sharks spend winters several thousand miles south of here and migrate back every year for breeding and rearing their young.
Another time I was able to paddle with a 2-foot sea turtle pretty deep into the marsh and ran across an otter that wanted nothing to do with me, but it was a treat to see.
Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols writes in his book, “Blue Mind,” that we humans benefit from spending time in, on under and near water. He writes that “the water experience can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.”
I know that when I spend time surfing or paddling I come back to dry land with a much calmer feeling. It’s somewhat similar to the runners high I used to get by putting in a solid run, that is before my knees decided they did not appreciate the pounding from the sport.
The book states that “Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”
It also mentions that, “We know instinctively that being by water makes us healthier, happier, reduces stress, and brings us peace.” I completely agree.
The most exotic sea creature I have seen so far was a spotted eagle sting ray. It looks as though it could have just swam in from tropical waters. At about 4 1/2 feet of wingspan, it was a good-sized ray.
While I have found great solitude in the marsh, my new favorite paddle is with my girlfriend, Cara Bloom. We create our own Sunday brunch by packing some fruit and sandwiches along with a few towels to spread out on the sand. We’ll paddle to our own private beach and let the birds sing us a serenade and provide an airshow. It’s a much better way to brunch than any I’ve ever experienced.
This winter was the first time I went oystering on my board. I could paddle in to waters too shallow for most boats so early season bore plentiful large salty oysters. I would load up a 5-gallon bucket with approximately a half-bushel of the tasty bivalve mollusks to later eat raw or steamed the same day I harvested them, so the flavor was magnificent.
While I have never heard crawdads sing out in my salt marsh, the paddle never gets old.