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Paddle Power

Paddle Power
October 2013
Charleston SUP Safaris uses paddleboarding to teach students about respecting and enjoying Lowcountry waterways

When Jon Ory settled in Charleston full-time after more than a decade of directing summertime student community service trips around the world, the timing was finally right to start a business of his own. He had most recently spent two years in New Zealand teaching environmental education, paddling, and surfing, so the idea of promoting an appreciation for Charleston’s delicate water and land ecology through stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) was the perfect marriage of his experience and interests.

He opened Charleston SUP Safaris on Folly Beach in 2011. “I knew I wanted to be more than just a business,” says Ory. “I wanted to give back.” Before long, he met Jason and Susan Smith, who had lost their infant daughter to a congenital heart defect and set up the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation to promote further research. Inspired by their cause, as well as other local charities, Ory organized the SUPer Scary SUP Race in October 2011. The Shamrock SUP Race followed in March, and both are now annual events, with fundraising practically doubling each year.

But Ory knew he could do more, especially where his passion lay strongest: the environment and teaching. So he set up a program for youth outreach and school groups, supplying everything from paddles and flotation devices to trained guides and insurance at a low cost.

Communities in Schools signed on for summer programs that take high school students from low-income households paddleboarding. And Earth Force of James Island Middle School joined in with 30 students who combined SUPing with collecting trash from the Folly River. This school year, Earth Force is working with SUP Safaris to periodically collect water samples that they then test for the Surfrider Foundation. “Some of these kids have never been on the river, never been on the ocean,” says Ory. “They now understand that the water is something to enjoy and appreciate.”

The company’s guides have also taught SUP basics to groups from ABA Outreach—which serves children with autism and developmental disorders—and each August volunteer at the Surfers Healing event for autistic children.

To get more kids out on the water, Ory recently garnered donations of seven paddleboards from SUP ATX and C4 Waterman so that any school or youth group can send up to seven participants free of charge.

“It’s good for the environment, it’s hands-on education, and it connects the kids to the waterways,” says Ory. “When you’re passionate about something like this, it’s easy to get up and work hard to make it happen.”

The SUPer Scary SUP Race is October 26, noon to 2 p.m., on the Folly River. Find details at