Why a Canoe Is the Perfect Vessel for Cookouts, Catharsis, and Casting a Line

Canoe gliding past cypress trees
Canoe gliding past cypress trees Rachel LaCour Niesen / Getty Images

The bow of the canoe clears the tree trunk, a massive wing of bark, and I drawstroke to hug the tree more closely. The swampy water is stained the color of tea, and overhead loom the canopies of thousand-year-old cypresses that have never seen a saw.

I’ve been canoeing North Carolina’s Black River for nearly 30 years. It’s my favorite place to paddle and never fails to underscore the merits of this ancient boat, especially in the summer. I can load it with a 50-quart cooler packed with beer and steaks, a burden no kayak will swallow; paddle with a buddy or go it alone; stand up and cast or stretch out for a snooze. Hybrid watercraft and standup paddleboards just can’t compete.

Practicality drives my choice, but I also enjoy knowing that in dugout canoes, not terribly different from my own, the Tuscarora and other native people first navigated these swamps. And with similar crafts Lewis and Clark headed west into the unknown, further testament to their simple, effective design. Paddling a canoe requires practice, to be sure. But it’ll teach you how to move with balance in an unbalanced world.

This article is part of our Summer School series, a comprehensive guide to acing the year’s best season.