Dip into Hilton Head’s Waters
Author: Becca Edwards
Hilton Head Island’s history teems with tales of nautical natives, intrepid seafaring explorers, and salty fishermen, shrimpers and oyster farmers. The depth of our tidal creeks, rivers and waterways is measured not in feet but by these rich stories.
“The Native Americans, European settlers, plantation owners, Gullah people, timber bearers of the Gilded Age, Charles Fraser and other developers, and our current residents and tourists, they all have one thing in common—the water. The water has and will continue to influence what we do, what we eat, how we design our homes, our literature, everything,” said Mike Overton, owner of Outside Hilton Head. For 36 years, Overton has been getting people on the water and immersed in the Lowcountry’s nature, history and culture. He also recently founded the Outside Foundation (outsidefoundation.org), a non-profit dedicated to getting kids outside and protecting our local environment. “Research has found that kids have on average nine hours free time a day and that eight and half of those hours are spent in front of a screen. I want to change that.”
Thanks to Overton and companies like H2O Sports, Kayak Hilton Head and SUP Adventures (just to name a few), there is no shortage of water-based activities. “We offer kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, motor boating, fishing, water skiing, knee boarding, wake boarding, tubing, private charters, group excursions, and retreats to remote islands,” Overton said. “Our signature trip is our Ultimate Lowcountry Day. Many of our guides grew up in the area, and we have compiled a menu of options to help people plan their perfect day on the water.” You can also dip your toes in water recreation by going on a dolphin watch cruise, parasailing, windsurfing, sailing, jet skiing, or cocktailing on a catamaran like Pau Hana. “There really is no limit to the things people can enjoy on the water,” Overton said.
Overton also points out Hilton Head’s unique ecology. “There are not many other places where the water is more alive than our water. We have the largest fish breeding ground in North America.” This is due in large part to the tides, which Overton recommends boaters get in tune with and understand well. “People need to be aware of the tides and work with them. That way they are part of the flow and the overall system.”
Whether you want to get an intense workout or to simply relax with a good book and a “let’s see if they bite” fishing line, our waters abound with boating and floating options. “Sometimes I just get on my surf board and feel the therapeutic effects of floating in the ocean. Other times, I go for a long paddle and get a good workout. It sure beats the gym,” Overton said. “Not many places provide such a beautiful natural playground as our waters.”
Eric Norman agrees. Norman has been a boat captain for 17 years and has lived on Hilton Head with his wife Andrea, who is also a boat captain and biology teacher at Hilton Head Middle School, for 11 years. “Boating is a great family activity, because everyone is together doing something outside,” Norman said. “Boating on Hilton Head is especially fun, because we are surrounded by such natural beauty and there are so many hot spots within such a short distance. There are at least 20 restaurants only 30-45 minutes away.”
Likewise, popular destinations with rich histories and anything from fine to funky restaurants and scenic views are just a jaunt away. “Daufuskie is easy,” Norman said. “The kids can run around, and the parents can relax. We have a favorite picnic spot that is really beautiful and never crowded.” Norman also enjoys “making a run” up to Palmetto Bluff and letting his two boys play in the Inn at Palmetto Bluff’s treehouse, or embarking on a day trip to Savannah, Tybee or Beaufort.
“But really the best and easiest thing is going back in the creeks and tubing, fishing, bird watching and dolphin watching,” Norman said. And if you want to be social, “Check out one of our sandbars. There’s the South Beach sandbar, the one on the May River, which is usually full of fun-loving people, and then a little one in Bull Creek that’s great for finding shells.”
Hilton Head also provides several unique opportunities to see the sea and creeks from interesting perspectives. From the Shelter Cove fireworks every Tuesday night, to full moon kayak tours, to dock jumping, our waters flow with the possibility to create unforgetable good times. “I have found that if you ask someone about their favorite memories, it often relates to the outdoors and the water,” Overton said.
As I write this article, I am looking out my home-office window onto Point Comfort Creek, with Buck Island and Daufuskie in the near distance. It feels as though I am peering into an opened package and inside so many presents await me. My neighbor is paddle board-fishing in the creek. A Wharram catamaran is moored and waiting in the water like a beckoning siren. The Daufuskie ferry putts by, as busy people make the end-of-the-day transition into being less busy. And, as if saying, “Right back at you, buddy,” the water reflects the late afternoon sun. I understand why the French, in their beautifully worn down wooden bateaus, sought our seas. I understand why Charles Fraser planned the first prototype resort community in Sea Pines. And—more to the point—I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want or need to be here.
Time: 30 min.
Must Do: Marshside Mamas’ steamed shrimp and deviled crab.
Time: 30-40 min.
Must Do: The Summer Concert Series and s’mores outside the Inn at Palmetto Bluff.
Time: 45 min.
Must Do: A walk along the riverfront and drinks at the Bohemian.
Time: 45 min.
Must Do: Visit the Tybee lighthouse and museum.
Time: 1 hr.
Must Do: Beaufort Water Festival (July 17-26).