Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
With its salt marshes, protected ocean waters, and consistent waves, Wrightsville Beach is North Carolina's most naturally gifted watersport hub, an undomesticated destination for canoeists, kayakers, and surfers. Now the town, population 2,484, is courting the standup paddleboarding (SUP) community with a range of courses suited for beginners as well as veterans.
"You can park your car and, from that one location, go paddling and surfing," said William Pope, director of the World Paddle Association. "The area offers so many different types of water."
The Intracoastal Waterway is a great place to join the party. Visitors are invited to standup paddle along the several flat-water loop courses and inlets competitors use during Wrightsville's two SUP contests, the Carolina Cup and the N.C. Surf to Sound Challenge. Especially popular is the Harbor Island Outer Loop, a four-mile stretch of inland flatwater where some currents and wind can make for tricky conditions, but there are no ocean swells and blissfully little boat traffic. Surfing and SUP rental gear is available at Surf City Surf Shop.
Wrightsville Beach is conveniently located about 10 miles from Wilmington, the largest city on the North Carolina coast, making access a breeze. However, the summer temperatures, averaging in the low-80s, and lively cluster of bars and restaurants along the four-mile island's main strip, may make it hard to leave.
More Information: Local accommodations include Summer Sands Suites (from $179 a night). All rooms have private balconies overlooking the sound and are just steps away from restaurants and bars, including South Beach Grill, known for its fresh seafood, fried pickles, and potent sangria.