The water surface around me mirrored the autumn colors of nearby trees and the craggy cliffs soaring several hundred feet. Cormorants in neat choir rows dried their outspread wings just yards away. From around the bend came the sound of a waterfall, where a lone heron often walks the marsh grasses at its base. Manhattan seemed a million miles away, but I knew better. Just over my shoulder, across the wide Hudson River, was its northern tip, and off in the distance were the man-made spires of city skyscrapers.
You must have heard the expression “in a New York minute,” which means to do something in a hurry. It is part of the image that many outsiders have of the Big Apple as being all work and no play. But within that proverbial minute, you can escape the bustling canyons of concrete and steel as I had and be on kayaking waters leading to natural splendors as well as new perspectives on the colossal city itself.
The city is built on an archipelago of islands and has hundreds of miles of shoreline. Kayak launch sites beckon in all five boroughs, but you could concentrate on just Manhattan and get a variety of opportunities and memories that will last a lifetime.
Start with the Statue of Liberty. If there ever were Stations of the Cross for kayakers, a trip to the statue would be one of them. I once paddled over from Manhattan with Greenland’s national kayak champion, whose mood moved from kayak-bouncing glee at being there to hushed awe and reflection. Even kayakers who have made the trip dozens of times follow Liberty’s gaze as she looks out to sea above their puny kayaks. As you float at her base, turn around: spread out before you is the fabled panorama of New York’s skyline, seen in many a movie’s opening shot. The best paddle access is from the Downtown Boathouse in lower Manhattan, and the statue is just a three-mile trip each way. The Boathouse, on Pier 26, is a local mecca for meeting kayakers. It offers a free public kayaking program that draws 8,000 newbies each year to paddle in its protected embayment and, once they gain more experience, venture out on escorted regular trips to the statue.