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Hatteras Island is one of America's great paddling locales. In most areas, you have one kind of paddling or another. But here, within only a few miles of each other, you can do many kinds of paddling. People with no prior experience can get started and have an enjoyable time, and there are instructional programs available to help them develop proficiency at whichever type appeals to them. Little kids or retirees can both enjoy time on the water. We highly recommend Carolina Outdoors, a division of Kitty Hawk Kites. This company operates franchises at Avon, Hatteras Village and Ocracoke's Silver Harbor. You can take lessons, go on guided tours, or rent equipment. They offer all three in three categories : Basic Paddling, Sea Kayaking and Surfyaking. To make reservations, call 252-441-4124. They have special programs for groups, kids, and families. They run guided tours out of their Northern Beaches, Central Beaches, and Southern Beaches locations. You will not be here long enough to take all their tours if you did one a day your whole visit.
For their tours, Carolina Outdoors provides all equipment : kayak, paddle, life jacket. An introductory lesson is provided before you set out. You provide the bug spray or net, camera, water bottle and snack. The kayaks are very comfortable. You lean back against your seat and once you get the hang of the paddle, it becomes a very rhythmic process to alternate left, right, left and right. The touring kayaks they give you are long and wide bottomed, so they maintain a very straight line and do not rock from side to side. After about 15 minutes, you feel like you could paddle quite a distance. You're paddling back on the Sound, so you don't have big waves. The tours are in the early morning or mid evening, which are usually the calmest times on the Sound. Often, the water is smooth as glass. The canoe photos on this page were taken in the afternoon, which is the windiest time of day, so you'll notice the water has a slight chop, bu it's still pretty quiet.
Surfyaking, or surf kayaking, is another matter entirely. You're surfing sitting down, surfing in a kayak. You paddle out beyond the breakwater, turn halfway around, and wait for a good wave, which usually occurs about every seventh one. A "good" wave is one full of oxygen. The oxygen is what will give you the lift to stay on the front edge. You can tell the good waves by their foam. As the one just before it slides past, you dig the paddle into the water, turn to point into shore, and start paddling hard to get your speed up to that of the wave. If you're going too slow, the wave will lift you up the front but you'll slide off the back. You have to be going fast enough to stay on the front. The wave, in effect, is pushing you ahead of it. If you catch the wave just right, you can ride it all the way in. A "perfect ride" will actually slide you right up on the beach. If you're really good and really lucky, you'll catch one of those a day. The whole day is an attempt to catch that one.

To surfyak, you have to use a kayak. And it's not the same kind of kayak you use back on the Sound. These surfing kayaks are very short, snubnosed, with no keel, but a smooth bottom that allows them to pivot and slide. A touring kayak has to be steady and stable. A surfing kayak has to be lightning quick and buoyant. As a gimmick, some people try a tandem surfyak. It's a cute idea that allows a guy to take his girl out on the water, but it's terrible for surfyaking. They're too long, too heavy and not nearly quick enough. Defenders point out that Hawaiins used them, but they forget Pacific waves are much, much larger.

All serious surfyakers paddle solo.The green surfyak top right is a standard sit inside model. The red one shown just above right is a Hawaiin sit on top model. Since no matter how good you are, you're going to be rolled, spun and thrown by the big waves, the sit on top version allows a cleaner exit. It's one thing to just roll or slide off and stand up. It's quite another to be dragged upside down while you try to disentangle your feet and legs. We therefore recommend the Hawaiin style.

Surfyaking is possible at Hatteras because the beaches are extremely uncrowded. You can just move up or down the shore 20 yards to where there is nobody in the water. In most places along the East Coast, they ban surfboards and surfyaks because someone might get hurt. We like surfyaking because some of our kids lack the body balance or foot dexterity to master surfing, but they can do pretty well sitting down and have about the same experience.

However, when we paddle back on the Sound, we hold a dissenting opinion. We prefer a canoe. Our Old Town Pack, the green craft shown above left and right here, can do everything touring kayaks can do with several advantages they don't have. First, we can sit up higher, which allows us to see better. Second, we can slide forward onto our knees and lean into our strokes, giving us greater leverage. Being able to shift from one position to another is also more relaxing than being pinned in one position for an hour or so. We have a back on our canoe seat, so the kayak offers no edge there. We have the crossbar on our canoe equipped with a drinkholder, camera bag and specially made pack with pockets for suntan lotion, raincoat, binoculars, knife, first aid kit, food, sunglasses, map, compass and waterproof flashlight. You can carry those items in a kayak by stashing them down inside by your feet but they are nowhere near as accessible. Our canoe, which we have used all over the country, weighs less than a kayak, and is easily transported on a cartop or on our shoulders from vehicle to water.
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