Hot town, kayaking in the city: the perfect escape


By Judith Stiles

Sweating through the summer in New York City is no fun, especially if your vacation time is used up and you don’t have much to look forward to except dinner in an air-conditioned restaurant. Of course, for relief, you can always try jogging along the river in a traffic jam of fellow New Yorkers on bikes and rollerblades, as you look longingly into the cool water, hoping for a refreshing breeze to blow your way.

Look no longer! Get down with those cool breezes and try sea kayaking in the Hudson River with the marvelous New York Kayak Company at Pier 40, located on the south side of the pier at Houston St. and the West Side Highway. Yes, the water is clean and everyone wears a comfortable life jacket in case of capsizing, which rarely happens. However a few people actually opt to tip over at the end of a session, just for the thrill of it.

Randall Henriksen, New York Kayak Company’s founder, brings an enthusiasm and genuine love of kayaking to every class, every trip and every discussion about kayaking. He is a “details man,” excited about every fact relating to currents, waves, tides, barometric pressure and anything that might add a little spice to your outing. Ask him about where he has kayaked, and an otherwise gentle low-key person lights up with animated descriptions of adventures, such as braving 10-foot waves off the coast of Maine. His store, a cozy den of kayaking paraphernalia, is replete with books, maps, interesting gadgets, apparel and colorful kayaks for sale. All the items, including a 35-pound foldable kayak, which his company is famous for, are neatly arranged in an inviting display adjacent to a window that peeks out on a lovely view of Lower Manhattan.

The nonjoggers who stroll along the pier often stop to admire the colorful kayaks and they frequently ask if there is a class for beginners. What about the novice who hasn’t done much more than navigate 2 feet onto a ferryboat for a ride? Yes, Tuesday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings, Fundamentals I is an exhilarating and thorough introduction to kayaking. This class allows beginners to explore the basics of kayaking with the assistance of expert trainers and assistants who always paddle nearby. And what a view! During the evening class, after learning such tricks as how to kayak backwards or how to make a proper turn and stop, if you linger long enough, you can experience a glorious sunset in the west, with streaks of gold and orange that create dazzling reflections off the skyscrapers. And yes, this landlubber-writer with no boating experience tried kayaking in the Hudson! I accepted Henriksen’s generous offer to put down my pen and take a spin in a kayak, and as it turned out, I had a blast.

I was very grateful that instructors Warren Parker, Larry Burton and Steve Goldman were exceptionally patient with this here novice, who kept lapsing into handling the paddle more like a tennis racket. (They taught me how to stop without smacking the water). I did not capsize thanks to British instructor Steven Allen, who gave precise and specific instructions to the group that even I could understand. I usually daydream the minute a teacher starts talking, but not with Steve, who had a delightful approach that took the worry out of boating. Once in the water, all the furrowed brows of beginners melted into smiles as we kayaked in lines, made splashy turns and created what is known as a “raft” when all the kayaks hook up side by side. After the instruction, we still had a bit of time to explore and kayak independently. I have to admit after a hot day in the city, my favorite activity was to rest the paddle on my lap and just bob up and down on the waves, as I watched the determined bipeds jog along the river, huffing and puffing as they tried to avoid bumping into all the other sweaty joggers.

The New York Kayak Company will take you through all levels of kayaking, including “Uptown Paddling Class” where you go north on the Hudson River, either with or against the currents. Joe Calto, a New York tax attorney, took kayaking in the city one step further, when he took a 10-day kayak trip around Long Island and back to Pier 40. For the more serious kayaker there is a new club where “membership makes it easy to meet friends for local kayaking without making a major investment in equipment,” according to owner Henriksen. A very reasonable membership fee entitles you to many amenities, including a locker room where you can hang up your suit and briefcase after work. The club also provides a place for storing all your kayaking equipment when you are not out on the water. For more information on classes, private instruction, the new club and outings call 1-800-kayak99 or go to the company’s Web site: NYKayak.com.

You can bet that this landlubber who graduated from Fundamentals I will be skipping dinner and a movie this week for dinner and a kayak, I plan to venture further away from shore, stop for a rest and a picnic in my kayak, because thanks to my well-designed boat, I can pull out a tasty sandwich and a drink from the watertight storage chamber in the bow. On a summer evening, what could be better than mother nature’s air conditioning and fine dining in the city!