Holly Feltner

Up the Creek with a Paddle

by Leslie Harris    Photography by Christian Lee

Holly Feltner

Up the Creek with a Paddle

“The Low Country Lure” —that’s how Holly Feltner describes the seduction that so many of us go through that ultimately has us living here on Hilton Head Island full-time. Originally from Kansas, this is no ordinary transplant… Holly seems as if she was born here, has always been here, and she certainly thrives here. This is a woman who insists, “Anything you can do in a gym, you can do on a paddleboard.” And she definitely puts her money where her mouth is! She is not only Paddle Fit Certified and ACA Certified, she is also a South Carolina Master Naturalist. Currently employed at the Disney Resort as an in-house naturalist, she organizes nature programs and experiential trips around the area for guests.

But about that stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) obsession… After talking with her, the wide-open possibilities of SUP appear not just intensely alluring, but utterly attainable. She confidently makes the case that “anyone can do it,” and in fact, she has coached clients from fearful beginners to effortless pros, ranging in age from 4 to 88.

Her first paddleboarding experience was on a trip to Hawaii in 2009 and it was nothing less than a defining moment in her life. Describing it as a “very magical” experience, from that moment she decided THIS was what she wanted to do.

But let’s be honest, it’s almost cliché to have a “life-changing epiphany” while on vacation in a place like Hawaii, but what needs to happen to take that realization and make it a reality? Well, with a move to Hilton Head already in the works everything began to fall into place for Holly and her new passion.

She and her husband, Chris, got married here on Hilton Head 15 years ago, got bit by the HHI bug, and knew they wanted to end up here. After 10 years in Washington, D.C. and all that goes with living in a major city (think traffic, high stress jobs, weather hassles, and did we say…TRAFFIC?) the opportunity finally came five years ago. With their two children, Nicklaus and Trinity in tow, they bought a boat, the Fore Sail, parked it at Shelter Cove Marina and never looked back. At first they wanted to actually live on the boat for a while, but the kids did not…how shall we say…fully embrace that idea. But the boat is still parked there today and that is where Holly stores her paddleboard.

Holly jumped right in, got all the necessary certifications and began instructing and leading tours for Outside Hilton Head. Heaven! Being outside on the water every day, she grew in confidence and skill. That’s when she realized how fabulous the possibilities were in this sport. Of course the water, tides and elements provide an added benefit to whatever you do; paddling on a windy, choppy day makes for a killer resistance workout. Want to try some yoga on the board? Now you’ve got a real balance/core/stamina situation. How about playing fetch with your dog? Well that’s just plain fun! (Picture that for a second: She taught her Chesapeake Bay Retriever to ride with her on the board, swim out and get the ball, and then get back on WITHOUT upending the whole thing. Well, usually.)

She’s even found a way to give back via paddleboarding: there are breast cancer awareness events like SUP THE CREEK PINK and she participates in clean-up efforts of the waterways, sometimes taking her kids out on a spontaneous “debris collecting adventure.” She just makes it all part of getting outside in the fresh air and engaging with nature.

Under the spell of the Lowcountry, Holly arrived on our island in pursuit of the ever-elusive “quality of life,” but what she got was so much more. So the next time you have a chance to be out on the water and you see a petite woman standing tall on a board, slicing through the waves, picking up speed, heading seemingly for the open ocean you’ll know—she’s in her true element and headed straight towards her next magical, unpredictable adventure.


Up Close:

Sunrise or sunset? Well that depends… Am I in the mood for coffee or wine?
Low tide or high tide? Mid tide! That’s when you get to see stuff like “spitting oysters” up close and personal.
All-time favorite paddleboarding story?
You never know what you’re going to see, and encounters with wildlife are the best. One time I was out with a group and a whole herd of manatees surrounded us. Everyone was just awestruck!
What’s the next challenge? I very much enjoy going out for the whole day, and circumnavigating around the islands that are scattered in Broad Creek and the Calibogue Sound and beyond. That requires A LOT of planning with the weather and the tides, but it is so worth it. And so the next step would be to go on an overnight camping trip on my paddleboard!