Waterway Weekends: Urban Kayaking

So far this year, Mother Nature hasn’t been the kindest — New York saw a chilling February where temperatures broke 65-year old records. With hopes high and gloveless fingers crossed, many New Yorkers eagerly anticipate a warm summer season filled with diverse and unique activity.

From concerts to museums to sporting events, there is an endless wealth of entertainment options available to New Yorkers. In the next few updates, Waterway Weekends will feature unique, out of the box experiences for those weekend warriors looking for new adventures to experience and new to conquer.

Urban Kayaking

Eric Stiller teaches Kayaking 101 at the Manhattan Kayak Company.  Photo: Bacilio Bencosme
Eric Stiller teaches Kayaking 101 at the Manhattan Kayak Company. Photo: Bacilio Bencosme

For many people, the sport of kayaking evokes a return to nature — raging rivers, lush forests, massive mountain ranges. But, many enthusiasts, like Manhattan Kayak Company owner Eric Stiller, 54, kayaking means traversing the man-made piers of New York City’s Hudson River.

“New York is a place unmatched on the planet,” Stiller said as he pointed to the West Side highway’s urban landscape. “We got one of the biggest mountain ranges you can hope for — when you go from a mountain range during the day to a Christmas Tree mountain range at night.”

The sport of kayaking has a rich history, starting first as a vital mode of transportation for Native Americans: The Inuits were the first people believed to use a kayak for traveling upon icy waters to hunt fish and seals. It officially became a Olympic sport in 1936 and mostly immigrated to the metropolitan area in the 1950’s, according to Stiller.

Kayaking and the emerging stand-up paddleboarding have taken off in popularity in recent times. Since 1995, over 500,000 people have kayaked at the Downtown Boathouse, one of the many locations where New Yorkers begin their aquatic adventure. And in 2009, National Geographic named New York of the top ten cities to kayak in.

“The urban landscape is a lot more exciting,” Christian Bantigue, 33, a patron of the Manhattan Kayak Company. “It’s active and you get to see New York a little bit more.”

Oakley Swint, 19, said that the urban background brings a different perspective to the experience. “I would never have thought that you can do it in this landscape,” the tourist from Utah said. “I thought, the mountains or the river. But not New York.” She added, “I want to go buy a kayak now.”

“It’s being on the water,” Stiller said. “It’s just a knowledge of spending so many hours out on the river, out on lakes, out on the ocean, you realize that there is very little on the planet that is as peaceful as a body of water. And there’s not much more on the planet that is as dynamic as water can be.”

Sidebar: Five Ports of Call For Paddle Sports In New York City

1. Downtown Boathouse

Free kayaking for pros and beginners alike in the Hudson River

2. Red Hook Boaters

Their mission: to “help people get on the water and enjoy the New York Harbor, and to instill a sense of protection for our unique coastal environment by maintaining the small-boat launch site from which we operate.”

3. Kayak Staten Island

Beach-front kayaking that is just a quick hop on the Staten Island Ferry

4. Long Island City Community Boathouse

Kayak trips ranging from easy twenty minute excursions to longer organized trips to the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond

5. Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse

Free kayaking with amazing views of the Brooklyn Bridge

Sidebar: What New Yorkers Are Saying About Urban Kayaking

Don’t just take Waterway Weekends’ word for it: here’s what New Yorkers think about their experiences sailing the open metropolitan waters — and don’t forget to use our hashtag #waterwayweekends to share your own experiences as well!

Out on the water today with @xlinds14wx !! So fun!! Finals relief!! #Mkc #mkcnyc #natureinthecity 😎🚣💃

A post shared by Jyliann Marie (@jyliannmarie) on

#mkcnyc

A post shared by Rems (@rems1235) on

Navigating Manhattan by kayak today 🚣 #mkcnyc

A post shared by Jaclyn Byrer (@jaclynemerick) on

#sunset #clouds #hudsonriver #nyc #newyork #kayak #epicboats

A post shared by Julieta (@momentsofjules) on

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