For hundreds of years here in Pascagoula, paddleboarding was the preferred means of transportation. A thousand years ago, if you lived up the river at, say, Choctaw Bayou and wanted to go down to Greenwood Island for a load of oysters, why would you trudge along some rough dirt trail swatting at deer flies and keeping an eye out for moccasins when you could simply step onto your dugout and float down there? Not only would you get there faster, the trip wouldn’t wear you out. Besides, there’s just something relaxing about being on the water.
That tradition of floating along the river and its maze of inlets and bayous is alive and well today. The Pascagoula Paradise Paddlers, a loose-knit group of kayakers and paddleboarders, has a “paddle” every month in which anywhere from eight to eighty people gather to float along and enjoy one of America’s premier recreational waterways. As I mentioned, the group is loose-knit, and not big on structure, but if anyone can be called the group’s leader, I’d say it would be Alice Baker. Alice also operates the Mariner’s Cove Marina on Krebs Lake. I recently talked with Alice about the Pascagoula Paradise Paddlers.
“One recent paddle started at Choctaw Marina (in Moss Point) and ended at Brady’s Restaurant, with a return trip to Choctaw,” she said. “We stopped and ate, and on the last leg of the course, we paddled at night. Night is the best time for paddling, especially in the summer. Of course, we paddle year-round. At Christmas, we start a paddle at the LaPointe-Krebs House and proceed up the bayou to River Road. We’ll stop at the piers along the way and sing carols. We string up the boards and kayaks with Christmas lights. It’s quite a festive sight.”
Pascagoula Paradise Paddlers (PPP) is not affiliated with other paddle groups, but people from all over come to Pascagoula to paddle with them. There is a site called “Meet Up” (an app you can download) where PPP paddles are posted. “We have people we don’t even know who show up,” Alice said. “We’ve had people from Jackson, New Orleans, Pensacola, and a lot of them find out about us through ‘Meet Up.’ Our paddles are welcoming events and open to all ages. Paddlers are an open and accepting community; we all love nature, we all want to take care of the waterways, so we tend to fit together well.”
I asked how difficult it would be to master paddleboarding. “The boards are a lot more stable than what you’d think,” she said. “I can sit on mine and dangle my feet over the side, and it won’t flip. You may fall off, but you probably won’t flip the board. And the longer the board, the easier it is to paddle. The bigger boards glide through the water easier. Learning to paddleboard should not be intimidating; it’s really an easy skill to pick up.”
Okay, so flipping over may not be a problem. But what about the critters you might encounter in the marsh? “I guess you mean alligators,” Alice said. “My experience is that they’ll go the other way, they spook pretty easy. The trouble comes in when people start feeding them, and they lose their natural fear of being around humans. Not only is that dangerous, it’s against the law. You should never train alligators to expect to find food at a particular place. Any place that tosses food such as gutted fish into the water on a regular basis — not occasionally, but regularly – is training gators to come there to look for food. But out in the marsh far away from people, I’ve never found gators to be a problem.”
And there are other more friendly animals you may encounter. “We quite often see dolphins in Krebs Lake. One dolphin was a regular visitor who would come close to me as I paddled. I recognized him by a white spot on his fin. He visited the lake frequently over a four-year period.” But she had an even closer encounter with another visitor to the lake, one you wouldn’t expect to see around here.
“I hit a manatee once,” Alice said, “and I hit it straight out from my house (on Krebs Lake near the La Pointe Krebs House). It was in a cut-through from Juliefield Bayou to Krebs Lake. We now call that cut Mantatee Bayou. I was on my Hobie stand-up pedalboard, and I was holding my handlebars, thank Goodness, and I see this big gray thing in the water. I can see it rising to the surface a little bit. I’m pedaling along, and I’m thinking it’s a patch of carpet or some type of canvas floating in the water. The inlet is narrow, so I don’t have room to go around it, and I have to pedal over it. And when I do, just as I’m on top of its back, it raises out of the water and lifts me up with such power that it almost throws me off.”
“At that point, I can see what I’ve hit. I don’t know if that manatee even knew or cared what had just glided over him. He just calmly swam away. While it’s uncommon to see manatees this far up the coast, it’s not unheard of. In fact, we have spotted other manatees in the river and have paddled along beside them. If anybody sights one, they should call The Manatee Sighting Network at Dauphin Island Sea Lab.”
So if you think paddleboarding might be for you, check with Meet Up and see when the next one’s coming up. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation for our beautiful Pascagoula River, but you’ll also become healthier in the process. “I highly recommend paddle boarding,” Alice Baker said, “and also kayaking and canoeing. Any kind of paddle sport will build your upper body strength. It also builds your stamina, that’s for sure. And it’s good for all ages. People paddleboard well into their sixties, seventies, and even eighties. Not only does it build strength, it absolutely helps your balance.”
So maybe paddleboarding’s for you. Check out “Meet Up” and see when the next one’s coming up. But if you do decide to go on a paddle, be sure to keep a close eye out for the manatees. I’m pretty sure they have the right of way.
*Photos courtesy of Alice Baker.