Standing on a city block, amidst steel-and-glass skyscrapers and honking taxis, you’ll be forgiven for forgetting that Manhattan is actually an island. But in fact, water surrounds most of New York City, making the harbor one of the busiest in the world. If you’d like to get on the water, but aren’t quite ready to book passage on a cruise or sign on with a cargo ship, check out the organizations that follow. They’ll give you sea legs in no time. By Jessica Allen.
Rowing out of Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx, Harlem River Community Rowing offers learn-to-row and master classes from April to October. The group rows singles (1x), doubles (2x), a pair (2-), a quad (4x), fours (4+), and an eight (8+), while keeping an eye out for the crabs, fish, birds, and barnacles that inhabit the area. Founded in 2006, HRCR welcomes competitive and amateur rowers, with members ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s.
Sometimes called “canoe polo,” kayak polo involves two teams of five players, each in a kayak, all attempting to put a ball into the opponent’s goal using their hands or paddles. (Yes, you wear helmets and life preservers.) All ages, abilities, and experience levels are welcome to join the folks at New York Kayak Polo, which practices on the Hudson River during the warmer months and inside at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey, during the colder months.
Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal has long been a dumping ground for the city, taking waste water, chemicals, oil, garbage, and, supposedly, Mafia refuse. (“The only canal in the world that is 90 percent guns,” according to Jonathan Lethem in Motherless Brooklyn.) The past few years have seen it cleaned up significantly, though it still has a long way to go. Much of its improvement is owed to the dedication of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, which provides free boats to anyone who wishes to paddle the 2-mile stretch of “water.” You’ll pass under bridges and by parking lots.
Yes, Virginia, there really are surfers in New York City, more specifically at Rockaway Beach, Queens. Boarders Surf Shop sells everything you need to get out on the water, including waxes, wetsuits, and surfboards, and even offers classes. It’s run by a father-and-son team whose roots in the area go back 90 years. But before dragging your board onto the bus or subway, you might want to check local conditions via Surfline. Still, whether you’re hanging 10 or just hanging out, we recommend that you finish your day like a true surfer, with tacos from Rockaway Taco.
The seamen and -women of Hudson Sailing depart from Manhattan’s Pier 66, using J24 sailboats. Among the options for a day on the water are the sunset sail, the family sail, and the “taste of sailing” excursion. If you’re interested, you’ll learn how to steer the tiller, work the rudder, and use “aft” correctly in a sentence, or you can just sit back and let the wind riffle through your hair. All proceeds go directly to helping this nonprofit group fund and run its Youth Sailing Education Programs, thereby grooming the next generation of New York City mariners.