Charleston boasts renown for a multitude of reasons: its history, its architecture, its food, and its nightlife to name a few. But, a visit to Charleston doesn’t only have to be about the city offerings. Its variety of beaches also makes it the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies.

Charleston and its surrounding area are unique in that they offer a combination of open ocean, marshy wilderness areas, and quieter bayous and rivers so that you can find the perfect water sport for your group. Looking for adventure? Hop on a jetski! Want to try something new? Take a surfing lesson. Craving relaxation? Enjoy a pleasant cruise. Whatever your heart desires, Charleston can offer.

Here are 11 of the most popular water activities here in Charleston.

1. Get close to nature by dolphin watching

Dolphin Jumping out of the Water

Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

Bottlenose dolphins are in no short supply in the waters around Charleston. These active creatures live in pods of around 12. Known for their playfulness, they have the ability to jump as far as 20 feet out of the water, and it’s not uncommon to see them leaping in and out of the wakes alongside boats. Although they’re spotted throughout the year, September and October are the best times to see them.

Bottlenose dolphins are found all around the globe, but the dolphins seen around Charleston are unique for one reason: strand feeding. This feeding method, only found in this part of the world, consists of dolphins using teamwork to force fish onto the shore where the dolphins temporarily leap onto the sand to snatch their dinner and swim away. It’s truly a sight to behold.

Where to go

There are quite a few dolphin-watching tours around Charleston. Check out Nature Adventures for a kayak tour around Shem Creek, contact Charleston Outdoor Adventures for a bay boat tour around the marshes, or take a sunset cruise with Barrier Island Eco Tours.

2. The water activity that anyone can enjoy: paddleboarding

Whether you’re a paddleboarding expert, or you’ve never tried the sport before, Charleston is a great place to give it a go. 

Invented in Hawaii in the 1960s, paddleboarding began as a way for surfers to easily get around while standing on their boards to better view incoming surf. Since then, it has become a popular sport all over the world due to its accessibility; people of all sizes, ages, and abilities can enjoy this sport. All you need is a paddleboard, a paddle, and a body of water.

Paddleboarding can be done from a kneeling or standing position, so if you don’t have a ton of stamina, this is still an activity that you can enjoy. Although lessons aren’t required to enjoy a day on the water, proper technique is important, and you should consider a short lesson before heading out if this is your first time.

Where to go

Go on a paddleboard tour with Water Dog Paddle Co. or Charleston Paddle Company, or head out on your own with a paddleboard rental from SeaCoast Sports & Outfitters.

3. Hang five and take a surfing lesson

Even though Charleston might not be the first location that pops into your mind when you think of surfing, Folly Beach offers a wide variety of waves that are great for novices and experienced surfers alike. 

For the best waves, come during hurricane season (around June to November). Be aware, however, that hurricane season can also come with big waves, so you’ll need to be a strong swimmer.

As an extreme sport, surfing comes with its dangers. Keep an eye out for sharks, which swim around Charleston all year round, and jellyfish. There’s also a fairly strong current around Folly Beach, so you need to be able to paddle hard. Beginners shouldn’t go out on their own, and you should make sure that you are fully confident in your swimming abilities before trying this sport.

Where to go

Take a lesson with Carolina Salt Surf Lessons (voted the #1 surf lessons in the state) or rent your own board with a number of rental companies around Folly Beach.

4. Go kayaking on the ocean or in the marshes

Kayaks in Charleston

Photo by Emmy Gaddy on Unsplash

Like paddleboarding, kayaking is a (mostly) relaxed sport that can be accessible to nearly everyone. As long as you can take up a paddle, you can go kayaking.

The great thing about kayaking is that you can make it as exciting as you want. If you’re looking for a quiet afternoon, explore a slow-moving river or a bayou. For those wanting a little more excitement, you can take to the open ocean where waves will be bigger and you might even get up close and personal with a bottlenose dolphin.

Where to go

Take a variety of wildlife tours with Coastal Expeditions, rent a kayak or go on a marsh tour with Charleston Outdoor Adventures, or get up-close and personal with bottlenose dolphins and Flipper Finders.  

5. See Charleston from the water on a boat tour

Water Activity: Take a Boat in Charleston

Photo by Emmy Gaddy on Unsplash

Boat tours are a great way to learn a bit about Charleston and its surrounding areas while getting off your feet and relaxing a little bit. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature nerd, or you just want to get a little bit of fresh air, there’s a boat tour for you in Charleston.

Where to go

Besides the dolphin tours, check out dinner cruises, sunset tours, harbor tours, and party cruises

6. Charter a boat to enjoy the water your way

There are loads of boating opportunities around Charleston. Yachts, sailboats, speedboats, and party boats can all be chartered for a few hours or an entire day of fun. 

Charleston is known for its maritime history. Once a hub for pirates like the infamous Blackbeard, Charleston later became a major port for ships carrying goods from all around the world. What better way to explore Charleston than from the deck of a boat?

Depending on your fancy, you can enjoy a sunset tour on a sailboat, a full day lounging on the deck of a yacht, an exciting spin around the harbor on a speedboat, or crack open a few beers for a seaward party. Some companies even offer overnight tours for a full seaworthy experience. 

Where to go

Choose a variety of boat charter options with Charleston Sailing Charters, host a private party on the water with Charleston Party Cat, or set up a private harbor tour with Hop on a Boat.  

7. The water activity that will get your heart racing: Kiteboarding

Kiteboarding water activity

Photo by APG Graphics

Kiteboarding is among the more recent watersport activities. Invented in the 1970s, it only became mainstream in the late-’90s and early-’00s. Kiteboarders use a kite to propel themselves across the water on a small board, enabling them to reach high speeds and great heights.

Although it may seem advanced, there are plenty of kiteboarding opportunities for those of all levels. Beginners will need to take a lesson, and they’ll need to put in a few hours of lessons with the kite before strapping on a board, but Charleston offers plenty of ways to introduce the sport. Those who are more experienced can book intermediate and advanced lessons or rent equipment to go out on their own.

Where to go

Book private or semi-private kiteboarding lessons or rent gear with companies like Force Kite and Wake and Session Sports

8. See Charleston from above with a parasail

Two People Parasailing as a water activity

Photo by Caleb Hanson on Unsplash

Although Charleston is not known for its elevation, there is one way that you can get into the sky and view the area from above: parasailing.

Parasailing is an exciting activity that requires no skill to enjoy. Passengers will be attached to a parachute with a harness which will be pulled behind a boat. Once in the sky, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. 

Where to go

Book a parasailing adventure with Tidal Wave Watersports. They offer trips for up to 12 people at Shem Creek.

9. Go wakeboarding on the ocean or in a lake

Little Girl Wakeboarding

Photo by Ron Lach

For a fast-paced activity that’s easy to pick up as a beginner, try wakeboarding. Similar to waterskiing, wakeboarding is when you strap on a board and ride the wake of a boat while being towed. An evolution of the monowaterski, the wakeboard is designed to leap over the wakes left by boats. Experienced wakeboarders can even do flips and other tricks. However, if you’re a beginner, you can simply enjoy the ride behind the boat.

Charleston has quite a few wakeboarding options, whether you want to charter a boat on the ocean or play around at Cable Park. If wakeboarding isn’t your thing, you can also try tubing, waterskiing, or other activities behind a boat.

Where to go

Go wakeboarding behind a cable at Cable Park where they have different courses depending on your ability, or book a boat and take some lessons with Tidal Wave Watersports

10. Take a jet ski tour or just play around

Two People Jet Skiing

Photo by Konrads Photo

If you’re looking for fast action, but you don’t want to fully get into the water, try jet skiing. A jet ski is a personal watercraft that allows you to speed around lakes or oceans, offering more of an adrenaline rush than a boat, but still easy to operate as a beginner.

Around Charleston, there are plenty of places where you can rent a jet ski for the day or take a guided tour. This activity is perfect for those who want to learn a little bit about the local area while getting their heart rate up.

Where to go

Rent jet skis for an hour with Tidal Wave Watersports, or take a jet ski tour with Jet Ski Safari

11. Grab a rod and go fishing

Surf Fishing on Sullivan's Island

Photo by Cody Black on Unsplash

There are tons of opportunities for fishing in Charleston no matter what type of fisher you are. If you like to sit down with a beverage and relax the day away, head to a pier. Or rent a charter to cast a line in the open ocean. You can even give yourself a little bit of a challenge with surf fishing or kayak fishing.

The types of fish that you’ll catch in Charleston are abundant. Among the most popular are red drum, flounder, trout, black drum, sheepshead, and even sharks.

Where to go

Book a fishing charter with companies like RedFin or take a surf fishing lesson with Charleston Fish Finder


A trip to Charleston doesn’t have to be all about history, architecture, and food. Water activities abound. With so many things that Charleston has to offer, if you find yourself bored, well, it’s your own fault.

By |2022-06-16T09:49:31+00:00June 14th, 2022|0 Comments

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