Sea Kayaking 101

I'll Kayak Manhattan
The skyline that defines skylines

Eric Stiller of the Manhattan Kayak Company is the instructor. Manhattan Kayak Company does exactly what its name suggests it does: It runs kayaking trips, riding the tides up and back on the Hudson River, racing the tides around Manhattan Island, puttering over to the Statue of Liberty and back.

True, the New York skyline might not be the first scenic backdrop you think of when you imagine kayaking (and kayaking, to flip things around a bit, doesn't exactly fit easily between museums and Broadway when you plan a day in Manhattan). But I never object to having a mental image readjusted. I have seen Manhattan from the air, from taxis, from trains, from cars stalled in gridlock traffic, from the top of the Empire State Building, and through the windows of Windows on the World. I have seen Manhattan from cement steps descending into the subway, and marble stairs climbing up to the New York Public Library. I have seen Manhattan from the doorways of Grand Central Station and the Arch in Washington Square Park. But I have never seen what is, after all, an island from its natural perspective: the water that surrounds it. You have to admit, it's kind of cool.

Eric's got a long history in these waters, and his family has a long history of putting kayaks in places you wouldn't think they belong — like Union Square, which is where for many years Stiller's father owned and ran the Klepper Kayak Shop. But Eric's paddle has churned up waters much farther afield and more dangerous than those of his home territory.

I was being shown my basic strokes by a man who has taught U.S. Special Forces to use kayaks for reconnaissance and infiltration, and who has actually attempted to circumnavigate Australia (yes, the entire continent) with a partner in a two-man kayak. His new book, Keep Australia on Your Left, documents the attempt, during which he encountered everything from ripping winds to fierce currents to capsizing waves to equipment failure, not to mention the ever-present possibility of encounters with local wildlife — not koala bears and kookaburras but crocodiles and sharks.

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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