Sea Kayaking 101

The Strokes
The wild starts at the George Washington Bridge

Finally it's time to put it all together. First we have to don life jackets and choose our boats.

There are several choices: Long stable sea kayaks (also called touring kayaks) are designed for flatter water. Stubbier, more maneuverable boats are intended to dodge the rocks and shoals of white water. Open-hulled recreational boats with greater stability are clearly geared for the rest-and-relaxation set; some of them even have places to put drinks and fishing rods, and the seats are comfortable enough that you can lean back with a book and just hang out on a lake somewhere. If you're more adventure-prone, you can choose little"squirt" boats that are designed to do acrobatics on any stray wave that might pass your way.

Eric encourages us to rotate among the boats so we get a feel for how they are different. Basically, the longer the boat the greater the stability. The shorter, less stable white-water boats are easier to turn. Ultimately, it's a matter of what feels right and what you plan to spend your kayaking time doing.

Tippiness is my concern, so I choose a super-stable recreational kayak and learn that getting into the boat might be the most difficult part of the entire process. Starting from the pier, I inelegantly squeeze through the seemingly too-small opening, adjust the foot pegs to the length of my legs, and then tell Eric that yes, I'm ready to be eased into the water. I expect the kayak to be tippy, but it feels surprisingly stable, almost like part of my body. "Exactly right," confirms Eric. "It's supposed to feel like you're wearing it."

I tentatively reach over and perform what I hope will be a draw stroke to pull me away from the pier, and eureka! Just as advertised, the kayak pulls away from the pier. I take a couple of tentative power strokes forward and, miracle of miracles, the kayak moves forward, tipping nary a degree. I stroke out into the Hudson River, use a sweep stroke to make my way around the pier, and head out to the waters of what the Mohican Indians once called "Great Waters Constantly in Motion." The Statue of Liberty beckons personally to me, with the New York skyline as the backdrop. I slice through the water, head straight into a wave, and look toward its source, the Circle Line Ferry, with passengers taking their own waterborne tour around the Big Apple, a place where anything and any combination of things are surely possible.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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