At the first-ever paddle festival at Hammocks Beach State Park, you could learn to race a kayak, maneuver a paddleboard, build a toy boat from recycled stuff, dig a dugout canoe…or paddle to a different drummer.
Paddlers and paddles of all shapes and sizes converged in the marshes surrounding the state park with organizers estimating a crowd of about 2,000 visiting the two-day event. It was held to celebrate the growing sport in coastal North Carolina and as a
fundraiser for the park’s friends group, the Swansboro Area Development Foundation and the White Oak-New Riverkeeper Alliance.
The festival revolved around vendors who offered demos of kayaks and paddleboards, displays of paddlecraft and a series of races. A one-mile Pirate Paddle scavenger hunt was a fun exercise on opening day, while Swansboro’s traditional 3K Mullet Cup race brought out the serious kayakers with swifter boats. Six teams signed up for spectator-friendly dragon boat races – head-to-head sprints between long, slim craft powered by paddlers. A drummer sitting in the bow attempted to keep everybody’s strokes in time.
Rangers from Kerr Lake State Recreation Area and Pettigrew State Park brought American Indian-style dugout canoes launched as interpretive projects, reflecting the centuries-old history of North Carolina coastal paddling. Those displays were augmented by kids’ activities including painting a kayak and building and floating toy boats.