Kayaking provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy calm or swift water.
The calm waters in lakes and rivers in the Lakelands offer a chance to explore nature in a quiet way. There are even kayak "trails" at some lakes, including one that is marked on the Little River Blueway map for Lake Thurmond and its surrounding rivers.
Each June, the Western S.C. Blueway Festival celebrates watersports at Lake Thurmond. There are kayak and paddleboard demonstrations, and plenty of vendors for those looking to invest in equipment after trying it out, including kayaks for people looking to fish.
In addition, there are kayak outfitters who sell and rent the watercraft, including Earth Connection Outfitters on Highway 378 in McCormick. AquaFun Paddle at Skippers Landing at Lake Greenwood is among those who provide kayak and paddleboard rentals.
Tom and Karen Greene, of McCormick, are two of the organizers of the Blueway festival and are avid kayakers who never waste an opportunity to encourage others to join them in their passion.
The two started out canoeing first in the 1980s.
"We realized the two of us were working against each other, both of us paddling in the same boat," Tom said, "so we decided to go into individual boats and control our own destiny. It was better for our marriage that way."
At the time, the couple lived near Atlanta, and there were several rivers near them.
"Kayaks are just a lot easier to control," Tom said. "You can really maneuver. You can go upstream in them. The switchover to the kayak made it a whole lot easier."
The two live on Lake Thurmond, so they often go out in their kayaks and explore the coves. They've also gone to places in Georgia and tackled white water.
"The moving water is kind of nice because you just have to steer," Tom said. "The calm water, you actually have to move the kayak, but it's much more peaceful. You can quietly come around a corner and see wildlife. Kayaks are really a nice way to see places."
Karen enjoys seeing bald eagles and deer swimming across the lake.
"One of the cool things about the kayak is that you are low in the water and you can really creep back into coves that a lot of people don't get to see because you can get through shallower water and really explore up into the creeks as far as the boat will let you go," Karen said. "We've seen fish spawning — all kinds of wildlife — because you can quietly creep up on things."
Karen said kayaking is an easy "entry sport" to being on the water.
"For Tom and I, being up here in Savannah Lakes, we have a lot of people retiring and coming into this area," Karen said. "They want to be involved in the water and interact with it, but it's a little bit intimidating to have a motorboat."
The couple own a motorboat, too, and enjoy what it offers.
"They all have their place, but the kayaks are just a great way to introduce people to being on the water," Tom said. "They're safe, just about anybody can do it, and it's great for kids to take their own kayak and learn to maneuver."
There are functional advantages, too.
"They're easy to load on your vehicle and go explore other places," Karen said, "compared to hauling a motorboat somewhere."
Tom loves sunrise paddles. He said he likes getting out on the lake when there are no other boats and the water is nice and calm.
"Watching the sun come up, and the eagles flying over, that's probably our favorite time to be out," Tom said.
The two have also participated in moonlight paddles.
"Because it's usually with a group — like with our Outdoor Adventure Club out here — it's a beautiful experience," Karen said. "In the mornings and evenings, the water flattens out and you don't have to be concerned with motorboats. It's just a real nice experience."
Tom said group paddling offers additional benefits.
"No matter what your skill level, there are people there who can help the ones who are less skilled, and it gives people with a lot of skills a chance to share what they've learned," Tom said.
The Greenes also enjoy the white water on the Broad River, just north of Lake Thurmond.
"It's a little shallow, but it gives you a chance to do some more technical turns and work your way down through the rocks," Tom said.
If a person is interested in kayaking, Tom said it's really simple. He said people generally learn how to navigate within a few minutes.
"When you start doing some of the moving water, now you've got to know how to read the river and paddle through the currents and those kind of things," Tom said. "But for just getting out on the lake, the learning curve is really quick."
Karen said she's drawn back to the water because she never knows what's going to be around the next turn.
"Even though you might be paddling the same spot every day, you just don't know what you might encounter or see," Karen said.
Karen said that part of the motivation for the Blueway festival is to give people a chance to try different craft.
"The industry has really developed to where you've got so many individualized, specific directions you can go," she said.