Elite and amateur kayakers celebrate the river


By Margarita Lopez

Impatiently waiting for her husband to pass the finish line, Sue Lance, 51, cheered on arriving athletes as she looked for a sign of her husband’s boat making its way toward the North Cove Marina. Among Olympic Gold medalists and members of the U.S. National Marathon Kayak Team, Bob Lance, a kayaker, was finishing a 26-mile race around Manhattan through some of the region’s toughest tides.

“My only nervousness is around Hell Gate because you never know what it’s going to be like,” she said, referring to the bridge over where the Harlem River meets the East River. Just before 4:30 p.m. on Sun., Oct. 14, Bob Lance paddled his way into last place in the Mayor’s Cup, as the crowd mounted the green benches, cheering him on, and the Don McClosky band sang, “Bob Lance bringing it home.”

Riverkeeper held its second annual Water Fest last week. Elite kayakers gathered in Battery Park City to race against the tides on the Hudson River in three competitions.

As the breeze began to pick up, the tide drew in kayakers paddling their way to the finish line. Athletes in the Mayor’s Cup race around Manhattan paddled strong against the Hudson River, vying for the $5,000 prize while family members and spectators cheered, “Go, go, go, go, go!”

Trailing in from a six-mile kayak relay race from Pier 96, the four-person team from the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing club captured the first win of the Riverkeeper Cup Corporate Kayak Challenge in 46 minutes, 40 seconds. “It’s really cool because we beat out a lot of younger guys,” Pat Slaven, 52, said. “I hate to say it, but it feels really good. It evens out the playing field — you don’t have to be big or young to do a respectable job.”

Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase awareness about the Hudson River and New York watersheds, had a successful turnout of professional and amateur kayakers.

“The concept was to have an amateur kayak race that can get together as teams and race down the Hudson River,” said Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper. About 100 paddlers from throughout the region and across the country showed up to race at this year’s Mayor’s Cup, more than doubling last year’s turnout of 45. The race launched at different times according to athletes’ experience in kayaking.

Hailing from South Africa, Herman Chalupsky, 43, made his first American competition worthwhile, coming in first place with a time of 3 hours, 14 minutes, 45 seconds, breaking last year’s winner, Greg Barton’s time of 3 hours, 21 minutes. Barton came trailing in second place in 3 hours, 15 minutes, 3 seconds. “It was hard work coming down the East River,” Chalupsky said. “Once I got around the Brooklyn Bridge, it got a little rough,” he added. The 26-mile race captured views best seen from a kayak, stretching from Pier 40 to 96.

Mike Richter, retired New York Ranger goalie and Riverkeeper board member, paddled on one of the yellow non-motorized raft flotillas in the Water Fest’s Big Apple Splash, a five-mile course that launched from Pier 96 with over 150 participants. As a dedicated member of Riverkeeper, Richter took part in the event he says is an impressive venue for kayakers to show their abilities and a way to enlighten New Yorkers on the aesthetics of the Hudson River.

“I think when you have a city this impressive, you forget about the natural resources that are available,” Richter told Downtown Express.

He still gets asked about the ’94 Stanley Cup the Rangers won after a 54-year drought, and said it’s on his mind more now than it was then. “You don’t think about the milestones of your career until you’re finished,” Richter said.

After kayakers finished the races, they gathered among others for food and sported gold medals around their necks. Children danced to the sounds of Don McClosky with the backdrop of the sun setting on the Hudson. Capping the event, Matthiessen and Richter presented the winners of each division with cash prizes, certificates and awards with hopes of enlarging next year’s championships by attracting 250 athlete-participants.