August 2009

Outside Hilton Head • Your guide to the ultimate island adventure.

Author: Kate Hanzalik

“We protect only those things we love, We love only those things we understand, We understand only those things we are taught.”—Indian Proverb

How can one truly understand an adventure that he or she has not experienced? It is impossible. We can only see imagine it through the eyes of others. All of us, at one point, must be followers, especially when it comes to trekking out into the wildlife. And it would be impossible to presume that everyone who has set foot on Lowcountry soil has had the opportunity to journey out into nature with Outside Hilton Head, the longest-standing and most extensive nature adventure company around. So we must trust in those who know: the guides.

Founder and owner,Mike Overton has spent the past 30 years building the company, ensuring that a wide variety of adventures are readily available. What does he have to show for it? A team of more than 70 adventure experts, several satellite offices, a retail shop, a fleet of 15 charter boats, an entire island, a sum of kayaks that could stretch from here to Charleston, a paddle boarding school, Fortune 100 clients looking to build their company through team development, and dozens of activities for kids, families, and large groups. And there is more.
“Probably on the East Coast, there is only one other company like this,” said Overton in an interview with CH2 in early June, right before his 10-day yachting excursion on the Atlantic.

He began the company in 1979 when he was just 19 years old. “I was in college and met a friend of a friend who was from Hilton Head and was into wind surfing,” said Overton, who came down that summer to start a wind surfing school at the marina in Sea Pines.

Overton attributes the success of the business to the employees who are all highly trained in their respective adventures. The staff is complete with nature guides, fishing guides, team and leadership facilitators, retail experts, administrators, Daufuskie Island history guides, and USCG licensed captains. “We have great quality people,” he said. “We’ve had fantastic people working for us, really good team members. That is what a successful business is all about. Everybody enjoys the lifestyle—they enjoy what we do; everyone has had extensive training, nature-based training, history-based.”

And the customers are loyal because the adventures are top-quality. “We have a lot of parties and a lot of individual groups or families who want just a really special day, but they are looking for something a little bit over the top,” said Overton.
Greg Smith has been a guide at Outside Hilton Head for nine years. He spent six years leading kayak nature tours, and three years ago, he became the reservations director.

According to Smith, paddle boarding is a must this summer. The journey starts on the flat water on Broad Creek. “It is a really nice serene experience. You paddle through salt marshes; it’s a great way to explore out there. Since you are standing up, you have a much larger area of viewing compared to a kayak where you are sitting lower in the water,” he explained.

Novices and pros will love it. “It is very easy to learn,” said Smith. “We have been conducting lessons for several months this year. Certainly you can move up in technique, but first timers are usually up on the board in the first half an hour. Our introductory clinic, which is an introduction to stand-up paddle boarding, is available every day. The success and response has been huge. Customers really enjoy how easy it is to learn, and the exercise is phenomenal. That being said, you don’t have to work hard to paddle; if you want just paddle slowly you can.”
Smith understands the value of the tours and Lowcountry landscapes. “It’s nice to be able to teach people how to kayak, which we do at the beginnings of our tours. I really love sharing information on the local bird life and, of course, also teaching people about our local ecology—providing knowledge to folks that we need to protect our fragile salt marsh ecosystem because that supports all of the great wildlife we see out there,” he explained.

Perhaps what keeps him at Outside Hilton Head are his encounters with the wildlife. “I’ve seen loggerhead turtles up in Broad Creek, not only dolphins jumping out of the water but also feeding, bald eagles, manatees along the Pinckney Wildlife Animal Refuge. Daily, we get to see a wide variety of different birds and have a good chance of seeing bottlenose dolphins.”

Smith recommends the popular new GPS Scavenger Hunt program as a way to learn about the island. “It’s a great way to explore many of the significant sights of Hilton Head. We will provide the customers with a GPS unit, preloaded with way points, which are points of interest on Hilton Head—each of those is significant culturally, historically, or naturally; so basically they will use the GPS to navigate to those areas. They will have a passport, which is a set of questions. If they fill out those questions correctly, they will receive a prize at the end of the program.” The GPS can be rented for 24 hours or for up to two days. “That allows them to hunt at their leisure,” Smith explained.

Outside Hilton Head’s Web site offers complete details about all their adventures, including various children’s camps, the Outback Excursion to Page Island that combines a long boat ride with kayaking, as well as many team-building corporate programs. For more information, visit outsidehiltonhead.com. For booking information, call (800) 686-6996.

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