Undiscovered New York: Kayaking the Big Apple

Picture yourself in a kayak. A sleek and brightly-hued orange plastic vessel, bobbing placidly in the calm surf. As your paddle rhythmically dips in and out of the water, you are surrounded by calm: the only sound the rise and fall of breath and distant cry of shrieking seabirds. You pause for a moment, letting the wind whistle past your ears. Behind you, you begin to detect an insistent mechanical whine, slowly building in volume. You turn to look, craning your head only to gaze at the shadow of a huge 747 rumbling overhead. Onshore, a Saturday morning barbecue is in full swing, billowing clouds of smoke shifting in the ocean breeze.

Welcome to kayaking in New York City. Kayaking is not an outdoor sport you might expect to find in an industrial, bustling metropolis like the Big Apple, but it is nonetheless an activity that is thriving among both hardcore paddlers and visitors alike. As we pointed out earlier this Spring, kayakers can rent out boats for 20 minute rides along the Hudson River. But as we recently discovered, Hudson kayaks are only one of several fantastic paddling options in the greater NYC area geared towards both newbies and veterans alike.

Want to paddle a boat towards the Statue of Liberty in New York’s famous harbor? What about a paddling expedition to explore the wildlife of Jamaica Bay? Maybe a FREE kayak ride is more your style? This week, Undiscovered New York investigates the city’s surprisingly good kayak options. Grab a paddle and get ready to be pleasantly surprised.
First-Time Kayakers

As we’ve discovered on recent kayaking expeditions, it can take a little bit of time to get used to paddling and maintaining balance in a wobbly water-going vessel like a kayak. Fortunately for less experienced kayakers, New York is actually the perfect low-cost place to “get your feet wet.” As we mentioned in our earlier look at New York sporting culture, the New York Department of Parks and Recreation rents out free kayaks every weekend at three piers along the Hudson River. It’s a great way to try out the sport and see if you like it before investing in a longer or more expensive outing. Fabulous views of the Manhattan skyline come free with signup.

If you’re ready for something sligthly more adventurous, head to Brooklyn for free kayaking on Jamaica Bay launched by the National Park Service. The bay, which is within the Gateway National Recreation Area, harbors a refreshingly diverse assortment of wildlife and unspoiled views. It’s easy to forget you’re still in the city until a huge jumbo jet roars overhead on its way to nearby JFK Airport. Groups like the Sebago Canoe Club sponsor Jamaica Bay wildlife expeditions for when you’re ready for a higher level of difficulty.

NYC for Kayaking Pros
Kayaking can be frustrating for first timers who don’t know how to paddle or accidentally tip their boat, but as you get more experienced, it can be a tremendously rewarding sport. This is especially true in New York City, where a little persistence can reward paddlers with some awesome views of the city and a totally unique perspective on its waterways and harbor.

Groups like the Manhattan Kayak Company specialize in trips for intermediate and advanced kayakers, taking them up close and personal with some of New York’s most famous sites. For around $100-200, paddlers can arrange specialized tours of the Statue of Liberty, the New Jersey Palisades and circumnavigation of Manhattan. These trips, typically lasting around 4 hours, are test of stamina and skill, but not without their rewards. It can be a surprising revelation to experience the city from this vantage point, slowly paddling through New York Harbor as you’re passed by huge cargo ships, the Manhattan skyline beyond as your backdrop.