First-Time Fun

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The Island offers a wide range of encouraging environments for beginners, whether it's by land or sea.

With expert guides and scenic settings, Sea Island provides ideal opportunities to try new activities in the outdoors.

By Nancy Dorman-Hickson

Possibilities for firsts abound at Sea Island, from kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing to fishing and shooting. The resort’s outdoor experience guides are renowned for both their high-level expertise and their friendliness—a perfect combination for introducing a new activity. Whether you’re interested in learning to cast a line or hit a target, the Island offers a wide range of encouraging environments for beginners.

Out on the Water

Stand-up paddleboarding is a great way to explore local waterways.

The list of water sports available for members and guests at Sea Island is long. With vast river marshlands and miles of ocean bordering the private beach, the setting often inspires visitors to dive into a water-filled adventure for the first time. The resort is well-equipped with the boats, boards and other gear needed to enjoy a variety of water sports, and offers expert guidance to help beginners make the most of their experience. “It makes it easier to hop on board when everything is right there and there’s a guide accessible to take them out,” says Gavin Earl, the resort’s water sports manager. “For kids who don’t really get around the water very often, that experience of running down to the dock, seeing the kayaks and the rigged boats on the dock, … the expression on their faces is just priceless.” Putting on their life jackets (called “boat coats” by staff) and sliding into the water on paddleboards or in kayaks or sailboats amazes youngsters experiencing these recreational activities for the first time.

Besides the fundamentals of each sport—stroke technique, balance and more—participants learn about Sea Island’s abundant nature, too. “Everyone on the water sports team is a naturalist,” Earl says. “We have so many different families that are first-timers who enjoy their experience of being out there, talking to the guides and gaining the knowledge of our salt marshes or our Georgia coast.” Members and guests kayaking in local river tributaries might see mullet jumping out of the water, while ocean kayakers or sailors could glimpse bottlenose dolphins, sometimes in pods of more than 20. “We’ve been seeing manatees more often, too,” Earl says. Hundreds of species of birds delight guests and members as well.

For new sailors, the fundamentals come first: “They’ll learn about wind direction and jibbing and turning the boat and troubleshooting,” Earl says. Young sailors love launching the sailboats since there’s a tendency to get a bit wet. “We’ll let the kids take over the tiller bar and steer the boat for a little bit,” he notes. “The guides bring cameras and we’ll take pictures of the kids steering.” Sailboats often follow the shrimp boats where dolphins are likely to be seen. “Or we go to the sandbar on the north end of Sea Island beach,” Earl says. “We like to call the sandbar Shell Island because of the immense amount of shells and tons of sand dollars there.”

The guides are thoughtful about creating a good experience for novices. When kayaking in the ocean, for instance, Earl says, “We try to go against the tide on the way there. It makes it easier for the novice kayaker to not fight the current on the way back.” Sea Island’s kayaks, both single and tandem, are longer than the typical vessel, which gives them more stability.

Additionally, Sea Island is especially suited for water sports newbies because of its calm water. “We don’t have big waves like Florida or the West Coast,” he says. Also, he adds, “The weather is almost always nice. There’s plenty of opportunity to stay outside.”

Taking Aim

Try the Sea Island Shooting School for a more unique first-time adventure. | Photo: Andy Anderson

The Sea Island Shooting School has everything that someone new to the sport might need. “We have a team of very experienced shooting instructors that specialize in all skill levels,” says Jon Kent, director of outdoor pursuits at Sea Island. “They probably have more experience in shotgun sports than anyone else in the country. If you are ever going to give it a try, this is the place to do it.

“They can show up with nothing and we’ve got them taken care of,” he adds. Skeet shooting experiences begin with a safety lesson, then transition into stance and foot positioning. “We are checking their eye dominance and the basics with a beginner,” Kent says. “It’s a very interactive lesson, not like in a classroom. They are shooting within five minutes of getting outside to the field.”

First-time shooters are usually surprised when they successfully hit their first skeet target. “They turn around and look at you like, ‘Did I really just do that?’ ” Kent says. “They are shocked at how well they do right from the get-go.” Predictable target trajectories allow that gratifying initial success, although mastering the sport—hitting 100% of the targets—requires much practice. “It’s something that most people never master, but 100% is the goal,” Kent says.

Sea Island member Thomas Bryan recalls the first time that he tried skeet shooting as a young boy at Sea Island: His dad wanted him to gain shotgun experience before they hunted together. Years later, now married with a dental practice, Bryan is still shooting at Sea Island, placing first in the two competitions held by the Sea Island Skeet League, which began in 2018. Getting past initial fears and being confident is the key to sports like skeet shooting, he says. “For a new shooter, shooting a large shotgun is intimidating,” he explains. “A comfortable and controlled environment like the Shooting School helps introduce shooters to something they’ve never done before.”

Last year, he and his wife, Claire, participated in a round of skeet shooting together. “She loved it,” he says. “She has little interest in hunting or the shotgun part. It was the competitive aspect of learning something new and gaining confidence that she liked.”

She plans to do more skeet shooting. When their daughters, Maret, 3, and Sarah, 11 months, are older, Bryan wants to take them to the Shooting School for their first skeet shooting experience.

Sea Island Shooting School

“Skeet is where we like to start beginners,” Kent says. “It’s a great place to learn the fundamentals and then to transition into sporting clay shooting, which is more like actual hunting.” On the five-stand (a compact version of sporting clays) at the Sea Island Shooting School, participants shoot from five different positions. The seven machines provide a greater variety of trajectories than traditional skeet or trap.

Broadfield, a Sea Island Sporting Club and Lodge offers a range of shooting experiences for novices, from skeet and clay shooting to hunting live game. Phil Corbett, a hunting guide and shooting instructor at Sea Island, agrees that it’s helpful if guests go to a shooting range to become more comfortable with a shotgun before targeting live game. But even with that initial training, Corbett says, “We are going to go over gun safety from A to Z. Gun safety is the key to hunting.”

Quail is usually the focus for first-time Sea Island hunters. “We start with one dog to flush a covey of birds and get a shot off and then, as time goes on, we will use more dogs and there will be more action. But you start slow,” Corbett says. Shooters flank left and right of the guide in the center and are given designated sectors within which to shoot. After flushing the covey, the dog retrieves the quail. Hunters can opt to take the game home with them.

Over time, he’s gotten to know some of the first-timers who have become lifelong hunters at Sea Island. He recalls one Florida family, parents and four children, who came out to hunt seven years ago. “It was the first time they had hunted and the first time any of them had ever shot guns,” he says. “Next thing you know, it’s seven years later and they are all still avid quail hunters, returning year after year. Seeing these kids grow and develop is like seeing your own family at Christmastime.”

Besides establishing these kinds of relationships with the members and guests, for Corbett, hunting is not really about the prize. “It’s about man and nature,” he says. “There is nothing more beautiful than these dogs doing their thing. I’ve been doing this my whole life and my heart still beats fast when I see that.”

In other words, every time is just like the first time—it’s always a very memorable and exciting experience.

Focused on Fishing

Fishing, a hobby that all ages can enjoy together

“We’ve had people from ages 6 to 70 who have fished with us for their very first time,” says Capt. Dooley Miller of Sea Island. “Our staff caters to what they want to do. We try to catch as many fish as we can, give them a good experience and put a smile on their faces.” He adds that new anglers are often so thrilled, they are “jumping up and down. They want pictures of every fish they catch.”

Fishing excursions offered by Sea Island include nearshore, inshore and offshore experiences, and can even be arranged for private parties of family members or friends. Depending on what time of year and where members and guests choose to fish, speckled trout, flounder, sheepshead, black drum, sea bass, red fish and more could be caught. “Some people enjoy casting and some people want to anchor and bottom fish—just sit and wait for it,” Miller says.

With kids, he says, “We will show them what a bite is going to feel like and how it will jerk a little bit. They can sit, feel a nibble, then reel it in.” He’s had children send him essays and art that they made about their experience. Some toddlers who had their first fishing experiences with Miller are still baiting hooks with him as young adults in their 20s.

“Bottom fishing, 6- or 7-mile-out fishing, or inshore fishing—whatever they want to do, we are there to teach,” Miller says. Most people opt for catch-and-release, although some keep the fish and take them to the restaurants to cook. (Note: Please check with Sea Island restaurant staff to confirm that this opportunity is still offered.)

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