By Jessica Allen
New York City is surrounded by water—some 520 miles of coastline, in fact. The city’s waterways fell into decline in the 20th century (cue jokes about falling into the Hudson and growing a third eye). These days, though, thanks to tremendous civic and private investment, the waterfront is safe, fun and full of things to do. Read on for our top picks for getting onto the water in NYC. Resulting superpowers will be 100 percent due to the sheer awesomeness of experiencing the city while bobbing in its waves and wakes.
Hudson River Park
Pier 26 (near North Moore Street)
New York, NY 10013
Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking seasonally, from May to October, with scheduled departures on weekdays and weekends. You’re not allowed to swim, but you are allowed to kayak around and check out New York Harbor from eye level (more or less). The folks here provide all necessary equipment, from life jackets to sunblock to the all-important vessel. Kids are welcome too, as long as a parent or guardian is present. The Downtown Boathouse is run by volunteers who want to promote and expand public access to the New York’s waterways.
West 26th St.
New York, NY 10001
Hudson River Community Sailing believes that inside every landlubber is a sailor waiting to come out. Indeed, the mission of this organization, founded in 2007, is twofold: (i) to develop “leadership and academic success in underserved New York City youth through sailing education,” and (ii) to provide maritime education and recreation to the community at large.” Kids can earn academic credit while becoming expert seafarers and adults can take lessons ranging from a two-hour intro to a full-scale certification course.
Stand Up Paddleboarding
Brooklyn Bridge Park
One15 Brooklyn Marina
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP, is one of those things that look really easy until you actually try to do it, and then you realize just how tough an activity it is. As the name implies, SUP involves standing up on a board (similar to a surf board) and using an oar to move yourself around. Test your mettle/core/arm strength by going for a ride in Brooklyn Bridge Park in a protected embayment. SUP classes begin with lessons on land, followed by some serious on-the-water time. Beginners welcome! Those with advanced skills can sign up for small group or private instruction.
Beach 3 Street to Beach 153 Street
Queens, NY 11692
The first time we heard about people surfing off the coast of Queens, we thought “yeah, sure.” It wasn’t until we actually went to Rockaway Beach and witnessed folks riding swells with our own eyes that we believed it: there really is surfing to be had in New York City! If you want to try surfing but don’t own a board or a wet suit, or, ahem, know how, you can take lessons with Locals Surf School from certified instructors. (Classes for kids age 5 and up, too.) Be sure to check the Surfline before you go for info about upcoming conditions.
Take a Ferry
Pier 11 / Wall Street
New York, NY 10005
Granted, the ultimate purpose of a ferry is to get you from point A to point B, just like a taxi does on land. But the NYC Ferry system is also pretty great in and of itself. Take a seat on the top deck, plug your phone into one of the boat’s docking stations, grab a soda from the minimalist concession stand, and feel the wind whip your hair as you zoom from dock to dock, crisscrossing the rivers. Just $2.75 takes you from Wall Street to the Rockaways, Bay Ridge to DUMBO, midtown to Governors Island. Depending on the route, you’ll see bridges, parks, public art, and famous buildings like the United Nations, as well as get an excellent view of the city’s rapidly changing waterfront.
New York, NY 10004
The Billion Oyster Project trains volunteers to count baby oysters, build and repair oyster cages, and do whatever else needs to be done to ensure that these creatures flourish in New York Harbor, as they once did. Just how plentiful were these bivalves way back when? So plentiful and important to the life of NYC that, as Mark Kurlansky wrote in The Big Oyster, “the history of the New York oyster is a history of New York itself—its wealth, its strength, its excitement, its greed, its thoughtfulness, its destructiveness, its blindness, and—as any New Yorker will tell you—its filth.” Thanks to the BOP, some 20 million oysters have been grown here to date.