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The ocean means so much to our local community. Whether it's simply taking a walk on the beach, going fishing, or as ocean athletes riding the waves and wind. Some people call their time around the ocean as "church". Some believe it "heals" them. Many of us are here in the Charleston area because of the ocean. How much have you thought about what the ocean means to you? I recently asked for some submissions and received these responses:

Eddie : The Ocean’s vastness is like the Gospel. A reminder that it’s not all about me.


The ocean ~ it's hope, community & so much fun. I feel rejuvenated everytime I go, worn out in a good way. It's lifechanging too. I live according to it's ways now, adjusting my routine as much as possible it's tapestry of wind & waves, freedom & strength that gives me hope. Feel very fortunate to be part of our playground that was here my whole life, but I didn't see it. So glad I found my home.

Tharin Walker:

Unconquerable challenges, unlimited horizons - even though my own paddling goals are pretty modest, it's good to know what's out there.

Jay Upchurch:

“ Water is the essence of wetness. And wetness is the essence of beauty.” - Zoolander


It’s my refuge to escape the terrestrial world, to be with and without my thoughts.

Adam Clark:

It’s the place I feel most alive. Even on the flat days, it seems to respire.

Billy Lempesis:

Mind, Body and Soul. All three in harmony.

Beach Remnants LLC:

Everything. It brings balance & puts life into perspective, it's the perfect playmate, the best gift giver, and is soothing in every way.

Dom Martone:

An escape, mesmerizing, so much unknown about it.

McIntyre Barnhardt:

Peaceful, powerful, mysterious, healing.

I searched for some famous peoples' quotes about the ocean and found these:

Anthony Kiedis (lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers who loves to surf):

The ocean is full of life and peace. It’s supercharged with energy. Full of ions and activity.

Gerry Lopez (Legendary surfer, Mr Pipeline himself):

There is a spiritual-ness when you actually get in harmony with something as natural as the waves and the ocean, and yeah, it is definitely a religious experience.

Laird Hamilton (Legendary waterman, innovator):

The biggest sin in the world would be if I lost my love for the ocean.

Jacques Cousteau (the late great diver, filmmaker, environmental activist):

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

Pablo Neruda (poet) - from the "The Sea":

I need the sea because it teaches me…

What does the ocean mean to you? Send us your answers via email link below ("Contact Us") or DM us on IG or FB.

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"Go Because You Can" - that mantra actually originated from Seattle resident Troy Nebeker who did a round the clock 24 hour paddle relay back in 2015 with five friends to raise money for others in their community who were battling cancer. That single event grew over the years into a global effort. That quote refers to celebrating gratitude for being healthy by giving back to others who are not as fortunate.

"Go Because You Can" can have another meaning. Hurricane Ian got me thinking about that quote. Is there a bad time to go out into the windy and wave driven conditions that tropical storms and hurricanes produce? Is there guilt in going out when others have sustained storm damage from the same storm you're enjoying?

Perhaps you shouldn't go out if you're putting others in danger (EMT, Fire/Rescue, bystanders) or if the storm just passed and there is a great deal of damage in the area. Going out in conditions that are above your skill level is obviously not a good idea. It puts you and others in danger. There's definitely no shame in sitting it out if you don't have the experience or you're not comfortable in rough conditions. But if you have the skills for rough conditions, and it isn't total victory at sea and the storm isn't on top of you, then you should go!

By Thursday September 29th, we were aware of the massive destruction in SW Florida. Charlestonians know what its like. 1989's Hurricane Hugo is still on everyone's minds any time a hurricane spins up in the Atlantic and goes through the Caribbean. We've had a lot of flooding and damage from other storms since then. At that moment on Thursday, there was nothing we could physically do. There is a lot that can be done, in various ways, in the near and far future to help those in need in areas hurt by the storm's wrath.

The next day, Friday September 30th, Hurricane Ian arrived here as a Category 1 storm. We were fortunate the storm moved by us offshore and made landfall north of us. That path and the offshore winds kept the expected storm surge at bay. Power was lost in many areas. There was relatively minor flooding and relatively minor damage from fallen trees. It could have been a lot worse. Unfortunately, our neighbors north of us at Pawley's Island and the Grand Strand sustained more of the storm's fury and damage. By Saturday morning, the sound of chainsaws and leaf blowers were heard everywhere as everyone was beginning to remove debris and clean up their yards. And true to Charleston ocean athlete form, some took advantage of the clean up surf conditions.

So yeah....Go. Go because you can. Go with grace and humility. Go because you have the good fortune at that moment to take advantage of the conditions. Go because you never know when you won't be able to get out there.

And that's exactly what many local Charleston ocean athletes did the day before Hurricane Ian arrived in our area. There was action at all the beaches and in the harbor. I was able to capture some of the action in photos and video in the harbor off James Island's Melton Peter Demetre Park (formerly called Sunrise Park as some still call it) and at the north end of Folly Beach.

The NE wind was approximately 25-30 mph, gusting up to 35-40 mph during the time I was out there with the camera. The overhead set waves at the north end of Folly were forming nicely on the outside and inside breaks in the side-off conditions.

John Cutter (wing foiling) and David Buckley (windsurf foiling) were commanding the harbor while Morne Diedericks (kitesurf), James Corgill (kitesurf), Scott Hyland (kitesurf), and Noah Zittrer (wing foil), among others, were commanding the north end of Folly Beach.

I hope you enjoy these photos. If you haven't already, check out the Instagram Reel video I posted late last week. I plan to do a longer video edit soon, so stay tuned.

John Cutter

David Buckley

Noah Zittrer

David Buckley

James Corgill

Scott Hyland

Noah Zittrer

Morne Diedericks

James Corgill

Scott Hyland

John Cutter

written & photos by Mac Barnhardt

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Are you looking to enjoy the Lowcountry waterways from a different perspective, get exercise, make new friends, be a part of a team, and give back? Look no further than the Charleston Paddle Club. They are a local non-profit group (501(c)3) located in Charleston, South Carolina. The organization is passionate about paddle sports, physical fitness, fun, and keeping the waterways clean.

Whether you are a paddling beginner or are an experienced paddler, the Charleston Paddle Club (CPC) encourages you to come out. Located at Brittlebank Park along the Ashley River and next to Bristol Marina, the CPC welcomes members of all ages and skill levels, emphasizes fun, and loves introducing people to new paddle sports while enjoying the beautiful Charleston waterways. It is a wonderful way to get in great shape and make new friends.

CPC has regular events that include weekly dragon boat practices, outrigger canoeing, and different social and volunteer events during the year. The dragon boat team, the Charleston Firebreathers, has competed nationally and internationally. Some club members have competed internationally with Team USA. Club members also compete regionally, nationally, and internationally in outrigger canoe events individually, or as part of a crew. This is truly one of the few team sports where a winning team can include people of all genders, ages and sizes.

If you’re a beginner, CPC will teach you basic paddling form, as well as on-water safety and commands. You can join them for up to 3 paddle sessions (and unlimited social events) before you’ll be asked to pay club dues. These dues help towards operating and maintenance costs, equipment purchases, training opportunities and facilities for the members. Once you’re a CPC member, you can sign up for any team paddle or regular club session that matches your skill level. You’ll get access to all dragon boat practices and six-person outrigger canoe (OC6) outings that match your fitness and skills level, opportunities to race competitively, and invitations to all team social events. As a non-profit, they also participate in keeping the waterways clean.

What is dragon boating? Dragon boats are large canoe-like vessels, manned by up to 20 paddlers (in a standard size boat) that sit in pairs and facing the bow along the length of the boat. The paddlers race the boat various distances using single bladed paddles. Dragon boats are typically fitted with ornate wooden carved dragon heads and tails. The sport originated in southern China over 2,000 years ago.

What is outrigger canoeing? Outrigger canoeing is a sport of the canoeing discipline. The boats have a lateral float called outrigger (also called ama) fastened to the hull with two booms (also called iokos) that provide stability for racing in various water conditions and for surfing ocean swell and waves. Single bladed paddles are used. The type of outrigger canoe is dependent on the number of paddlers. There are typically six-person canoes (OC6), two-person canoes (OC2), and one-person canoes (OC1). OC1’s and OC2’s canoes have rudders. The OC6, which has 6 paddlers, has a manual steersman in seat 6. Outrigger canoeing originated with Polynesian and Austronesian explorers thousands of years ago. It was integral to ancient Hawaiian culture and is popular in the Tahitian and Hawaiian islands.

When was the club founded and by whom? I sat down with club president Steve Connor and club vice-president Billy Lempesis to find out.

CPC was founded in 2010 by Steve Connor, Pete Lempesis, Jamie Muehl, William Dionl, Roger Jones, Billy Lempesis, and Tharin Walker. Its roots began a couple of years earlier with Dragon Boat Charleston, a club that already existed. Dragon Boat Charleston was primarily a cancer survivor group. Billy remarked that “my first coach was Dr. Cindy Carter who went to Canada and attended a study about how paddling was beneficial to women breast cancer survivors. She came back, got a grant through MUSC and started Dragon Boat Charleston. Their first festival was huge and my company put together two corporate teams to compete”

Billy continued “I said this is fun. I’m not surfing any longer but with older age, paddling seems to really be good for you. We competed under Dragon Boat Charleston for a couple of years. We won the Nationals and we qualified for the Worlds. My son Pete Lempesis and Jamie Muehl progressed as paddlers and we decided to form a premiere team and in the next year, became very successful. We had a Canadian coach, named Pat Barker, that had been coaching our Dragon Boat Charleston team. She introduced Pete and I to outrigger paddling. I’d never heard of it. We started researching it and Pete got really excited about it. Pete decided, out of nowhere, to go buy an OC6 (six-person outrigger canoe). That was 2010. We didn’t know how to set the thing up. At that point, we decided we wanted to do multiple types of paddling and be competitive. Thus, Charleston Paddle Company was born.”

I pressed both Steve and Billy about sharing some stories from the early history of the club. Billy recalled “our first OC6 outrigger race was at Treasure Island, outside of Tampa, Florida. We only had five OC paddles and had to use a dragon boat paddle to make it six paddles. The back of the boat was facing forward so we set up the ama on the right side instead of the traditional left side. The other canoe crews on the water were yelling at us and said you might want to change around and head the right direction. So we jumped out of the boat and swapped seats. We were ill equipped. Ran our first race there not knowing what the hell we were doing. And by the way, we got third. It was an evolutionary process. We had no coaching. We had to learn by video how to tie the iakos to the ama with the old-fashioned rope.”

Steve Connor recollected a funny story from that time, “this was Billy’s early days of steering (the dragon boat) and he was also coaching us. He had the boat lined up and we’re ready to go. We push off (the dock) a little bit and he says go! We went about three feet and there was a sudden recoil.” Billy chimed in “I forgot to take the stern line off. Next thing I know, my ass was upside down in the air off the back of the boat. All my crew, instead of being concerned, they all laughed their asses off!”, as both Billy and Steve chuckled at that memory.

Billy said “In 2012, we changed our name from Charleston Paddle Company to Charleston Paddle Club. It became clear that ‘Company’ sounded more like a business. Through the guidance of Roger Jones and Steve Connor the club became a non-profit.”

Billy recalled “Mike Owens had the first outrigger canoes in Charleston. He was actually making OC1s on the local Navy base. He was doing the old technique where you did half molds and put the layered fiberglass down and the gelcoat and pressed them together. He constructed an OC6 from two old canoes. It weighed over 600lbs. This was the first OC6 we used. Then Pete bought a Bradley Lightening from a club in Florida that weighed 350 lbs and we used that OC6 for six years. Currently the club has two new Ultralight Puakea’s (OC6) that weigh only 175lbs each.”

Billy continued, “the competitions are amazing. Our Dragon Boat crew, the Firebreathers, was very successful. For three years, the crew medaled in every race we participated in from Virginia to Florida. Two of those years, we won all Gold medals. Pete, Jamie and I made Team USA in 2012, and competed in the World Championships in Milan, Italy. Our crew member Robert Hess made it two years later. Jess Key has made the National Team several times. Club member Andy McMarlen, a local sports medicine physician and non-surgical orthopedic specialist, was an Olympic Rower qualifier for the Atlanta Olympics. Andy is one of the most decorated Dragon Boat paddlers in the United States. He is also an avid Outrigger and Surf Ski paddler. All the while, the Firebreathers crew continued to be successful.”

Steve remarked that the club used to be more “board driven”, but are “working to be more member driven, so if you want to go do a race in Wilmington, we’ll support you.” Billy added “you can take it as far as you want to take it with our club. You want to make the National team? We have the people here who can show you how to do that. You just want to have fun? That’s even better!”

If you’re looking for something new and different in getting outside and getting close to the water, getting exercise, and being part of a community, go check out Charleston Paddle Club at You can also help the Charleston Paddle Club by making them the charity of your choice when making purchases on Amazon. They are now on Amazon Smile. They also accept donations through Venmo, PayPal, cash or check, and can also invoice you to pay through credit/debit card.

written by Mac Barnhardt

photos provided by Billy Lempesis

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