Destination Kayak

Waccamaw River Blue Trail

Part 1- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Sunday 12/17/2023

Welcome: Introduction

         It all started with a dream that was envisioned more than ten years ago. Before we get to the good bits I wanted to introduce myself and warn you! I am a kayaker, not a writer. This blog is intended to be a raw unedited account of my trip. I will try to throw in some useful bits here and there should this be a dream of yours. This blog is about my personal experience conquering the Waccamaw River. It isn’t intended to be a all informative, inclusive guide for you if you share the same passion, but it just might be helpful and hopefully inspiring for you to find the river you want to tackle and “Just Do It”!

          My name is Justin Summerall. My wife and I started J & L Kayaking in North Myrtle Beach nearly 14 years ago. I have always been attracted to adventure and the outdoors. When we started our company we started with nothing but, ambition and a mediocre knowledge of kayaking. Kayaking is my escape and my happy place. I have a drive for it and a passion to pursue it and to chase the tales of adventure by kayaking. Since the opening of our kayak tour business I have pursued knowledge and skills on becoming a better, safer, kayak enthusiast. I joined the ACA in 2019 shortly after my return from a year long deployment in the Navy. Shortly after joining the ACA, I put in to become an instructor, so that I could teach others safely and with confidence. Boy! I was in for an awakening. I never knew there was so much possibility with kayaking. I learned things I didn’t even know existed. Between safety equipment, rescue drills, and an array of paddle strokes. I was hooked. I sought after a Level 3 Coastal Kayak Instructor position because I felt it was the most appropriate for what my future would hold. Basically, it means that I can teach others how to kayak in dynamic conditions safely up to a 1-2kt current, 1-2 foot waves, 10-15mph winds and even conduct surf launches and beach approaches. Although I successfully completed the course and received my certifications, I still felt I was lacking a little in confidence. A little less than a year later, I participated in a Level 4 Open Water Assesment class and certification in Tybee Island, GA. This was INTIMIDATING! Not so much that I was trying to move up a level, it was because we participated in this class right in the middle of Tropical Storm Nicole as it made land fall. Never-the-less, I hesitantly went out and soon became comfortable as the waves would toss me to and fro. I was able to maintain boat control and even hold the kayak upright throughout the process. It gave me exactly what I needed. An ability to feel fear and overcome it.

The Beginning: Making My Dream Real

          A little more than ten years ago I suggested to some friends, while paddling a short section of the Waccamaw River, that I would like to do a through paddle. In my arrogance and because there was a strong flow on the river I boasted that it could be paddled in a single 24 hour period. Needless to say, this was a combination of ignorance and arrogance. Every since that day, I have suppressed the thought of doing the Waccamaw River in its entirety. Life takes hold and we got busy holding a job and keeping the bills paid. The dream became a faint memory but, one that refused to forsake my thoughts over the next decade. Life carried on and the dream became a distant memory between a few close friends. 

          Lets hit the fast forward button to 2020. COVID! People were itching to get outside. By this time, my wife and I had fully dedicated ourselves to a full service kayak club to serve the community. Introducing the sport to locals while avoiding the high tourism rates. The club was founded in 2017 to provide kayaking opportunities for locals who might not of had such ability. The club grew and expanded and so did our trips and locations. To combat 2020 and keep kayaking alive, we challenged current club members to a Waccamaw 123 mile challenge. This is the most consistent portion of navigable water on the Waccamaw River. The members aggressively accepted the challenge. This challenge consisted of nine legs totaling 123 miles with an average daily distance of approximately 14 miles. This was organized as a sectional paddle from Hwy 130 (Babson’s Landing) to Morgan Park in Georgetown, SC. One by one the members took on the challenge and completed- at the time- the entire Waccamaw River Blue Trail. The blue trail has since expanded to include the river above South Carolina and now begins at the dam located on the south outflow of Lake Waccamaw.

        Through challenging the members, I was able to complete the missing sections I had never done. Having already done the secluded section of the river at the dam, I was only missing a few sections in the middle of the river. By the end of 2020 I had completed every section and officially earned a title as a section paddler completing all 140 miles of the river at different times. That was enough for me at the time. It temporarily satisfied my dream of completing the river. It wasn’t a big deal anymore that I complete a through paddle verse a sectional paddle. For a little while, anyways…

           Back in November of this year (2023), on a separate local kayak club, a debate erupted into the fold. Where does the Waccamaw Start? The debate ensued and soon there were multiple claims by multiple people. I was absorbed into the conversation. Intrigued, is probably my emotion. I wasn’t frustrated, nor, could I care less of the claims of where the river starts or how long the river flows. The important take away was how much actual navigable flow was there. The Army Corps of Engineers made it clear. The navigable portion of the river begins at the dam on Lake Waccamaw. The bi-product of the debate; however, was unexpected. I found myself longing to tackle the river in one full stretch over multiple days with makeshift campsites along its river banks. It reignited my dream from long ago. I looked at my work calendar and found a 7 day window where this would be possible. I talked with my bride and we discussed it. I was cautious, knowing that her mother would be here for Christmas and I would be gone most of that time on the river. She without hesitation supported the idea of me heading into the wilderness. After all, for ten years I had this dream, and this was the first time I had 7 available days back to back to just go for it! 

         Only having 7 days scared the heck out of me! The fastest I knew anyone had done it was 8 days. I thought to myself: “Get in the boat and go! Who cares if you don’t make it. Just Try!”. Then for the next week I was on again and off again. I kept wagering my decision, kept coming up with reasons not to go. To a point where I was decidedly not going to do it. However; my core, my adventurous spirit kept fighting back. In a moment of vulnerability, my adventurous spirt started telling a few close friends I was going! Crap! Now I have to go, I am accountable. I committed to going so lets make it happen. Its only 7 days, how hard could it be? I’ve been paddling for over 20 years, and have done many long distance days. I got this! Then the news came on. A “Nor’easter” / “Tropical Storm” (a debate for someone else’s blog) was rolling in and out all day on my launch day! Sunday 12/17/2023. Mass amounts of rain and strong gust upwards of 40mph. This took me down to six days to complete the entire river source to sea. Additionally, it changed the river level by more than 6-7 feet overnight! I lost all the possible sandy banks to camp on and navigation would be much more difficult because the river no longer followed the river. It was just sliding downhill into the trees and through the trees. I had planned for an entirely different trip. Now I had to reset everything for a higher water trip and revisit my “plan” for the unexpected. 

          Regardless, I was not deterred. After all, I had committed multiple times to multiple people and kayak clubs at this point. I would be a flake if I backed out now. Pride, ambition, and excitement took over and my DREAM was becoming a reality. I couldn’t wait to tackle the challenges, the uprooted trees from the day before and anything else that would come my way. I spent Sunday packing and organizing everything and anything I could find useful for my expedition. I laid it all out on the floor like the thru-hikers of the AT trail. I felt official. I am not the most organized person. I am more of a throw and go person; however, for this trip, I needed to be more efficient and organized. Like Santa, I had my list and counted it twice, three, four times and then did it again. I may not be the most organized or strategic packer, but anyone that knows me will tell you that I am a “Plan A, B, C, D” type of person. So after I spread everything on the floor I realized it was way too much to fit in my kayak. I had to simplify and accept only a Plan A or B mentality. I consider my self a fairly established survivalist.  This is not my comfort zone. Call it a perpetual fear of ending up on “I shouldn’t Be Alive” or whatever the case is, but I was not happy losing “Plan C and D”. 

       In the end I consolidated my gear to only what I felt was most essential. My list was finalized and ready for packing. I have dry bags galore and made sure everything I could fit in a dry bag was tightly secured and ready for whatever came my way. Its now dark-thirty on Sunday evening and I felt everything I could do had been done. I went home and laid wide eyed awake till late in the night before finally catching a few hours sleep. Alarm was set for 4 am for a 6:30-7:00 am launch time. What seemed like a small day time power nap the alarm went off and it was now time for game face and coffee!!!

My Packing List 12/18/2023

(Not inclusive or exclusive. A packing list should meet your personal objectives)


  • 4 underwear
  • 2 outdoor pants
  • 1 flannel pajama
  • 3 Fleece/Wool socks
  • Insulating layer (NRS Expedition)
  • 2 beanies
  • 1 pair cold weather gloves


  • Retainer and case
  • Tooth brush and paste
  • Toilet Paper
  • Epic wipes
  • Goody Powder / Head Ache Medicine
  • Chapstick
  • Towel


  • Mess kit
  • Two fuel tanks
  • Water Filter
  • Long Spoon
  • Zip lock bags
  • Lighter


  • Two MH meals
  • Pre-cooked Rice
  • 2 cans spam
  • 2 Large bags of jerky
  • 4 liters of water


  • Tsunami kayak
  • 2 paddles
  • Spray Skirt
  • Bilge Pump
  • Life Jacket
  • Paddle Helmet
  • Dry suit (Kokatat)
  • Booties
  • Marine Radio
  • Paddle float
  • Sling / Contact tow line


  • Haven Tent kit w/ pad
  • Nemo Tent
  • Parachord (100ft)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fat lighter
  • Lighter
  • Bush axe
  • Knife
  • Flashlight
  • Head Lamp (2)


  •  Coffee & mug
  • Sunglasses
  • Hand Warmers


  • Solar Panel
  • 4 power banks
  • Chords

Series 2: An Early Start- Launch Day at Lake Waccamaw Dam

My first 38 miles, limbo trees, blockages, near capsizes, triumphs and near failures to fatigue, exhaustion, grit and celebration…

The tale continues: Releasing 12/29/2023


15 thoughts on “Part 1- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Sunday 12/17/2023”

  1. This is wonderful Justin! I’m looking forward to reading the entire thing.

    I am wondering just how you fit all that gear into the Tsunami.

      1. I am in love with the Waccamaw River and currently dreaming of my own journey down the river.
        I am an avid paddle boarders and want to do the river in sections.

        I appreciate and can relate to your adventurous spirit.
        Cant wait to read more.

  2. I just read your first blog entry aloud to Dave and we can’t wait to read about the first day of your adventure. We are so proud of your accomplishment!!
    We were with you on a kayak trip on Friday before your departure as the pending storm was forming and really wondered about how it might impact your trip. Looking forward to reading more ……

    1. Loved reading this and can’t wait for the next piece of the story. You say you’re not a writer but you are! I felt your emotion with every sentence and was instantly hooked.

  3. Finally got a chance to start reading this. You are a fantastic person. I can only imagine what this was like.

    Doesn’t look like much food for that length of time.

    1. Well that Double Whopper (I’ll be getting to that in a later post) sure helped! I ate mainly beef jerky for lunch and had a heavy hearty meal each night for dinner. Also had quite the support group 🙂

  4. This is great. This must be turned into a best seller! Thanks for bringing us along. Onto day two

  5. Stephanie Ferguson

    What an exciting and gutsy trip! I also wondered about the river after the storm and if you could beat the debris rushing downriver. Didn’t think about the easy sandy access areas being covered! Ugh!

  6. Exceptional adventure and so impressive that you were able to beat the time you anticipated. Im looking forward to reading the next few days. Looking at the list of food you brought its surprising that you survived! How much did you eat once you were home again? Congratulations!!

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