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OutdoorFest aims to create a living community of New York's urban-based outdoor enthusiasts through a ten day festival of outdoor adventure events in all five boroughs.

Paddling with the North Brooklyn Boat Club

Paddling with the North Brooklyn Boat Club

Header photo: Sunset on the East River - photo by Stephen Wong

Living in New York, wide open space is hard to find. Places where you can look up and see more than a slice of sky, where you can go miles and never stop feeling the sun on your face, where your traveling companions are the only people you can see, are rare. But there's one big expanse of open space hiding in plain sight. It's called the East River.

I never guessed that kayaking would become part of how I relate to the city, but it has since I joined the North Brooklyn Boat Club.

The North Brooklyn Boat Club is located on the Newtown Creek, which runs between Greenpoint and Long Island City - photo by Jens Rasmussen

The North Brooklyn Boat Club is located on the Newtown Creek, which runs between Greenpoint and Long Island City - photo by Jens Rasmussen

People are surprised that you can kayak and canoe on the east river. Some are skeptical of the water quality (which is actually not harmful, except for a few days after rains). Participating in human-powered boating teaches you a lot about how the city treats its waterways.

You also learn about the geography and history of the city in a way that doesn't occur to you from the land. You learn the names of creeks and inlets and what happens when the river meets the bay.

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra plays on canoes in the East River - photo by Stephen Wong

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra plays on canoes in the East River - photo by Stephen Wong

Paddling the river is physically exhilarating. The river changes with the conditions. Sometimes it's as if you're slicing through glass; on other days your boat gets tugged and twisted at weird angles as you ride and slide on the waves.

The North Brooklyn Boat Club offers trips at all levels, from short paddles for total beginners to intermediate key lime pie runs to Red Hook to a 33-mile overnight circumnavigation of Manhattan. The dedicated volunteer leaders, many of whom have years of paddling experience, help you progress in your skills.

NBBC volunteers collecting specimens for an ecological study - photo by Willis Elkins

NBBC volunteers collecting specimens for an ecological study - photo by Willis Elkins

It takes practice, but the sense of control and balance you feel when you come to understand how to paddle a kayak is like the feeling of freedom you get when you first learn to ride a bike.

Canoes offer the same freedom but with more teamwork and companionship. And canoes have space for your friend, your dog, or even an entire marching band like the one that paddled out to play on the river and promote the People's Climate March.

NBBC members on a sunny Saturday paddle - photo by Jody Godoy

NBBC members on a sunny Saturday paddle - photo by Jody Godoy

One of the best things about it all is that it's so close. In 20 minutes on a weekday I can go from a midtown office to readying a boat for launch, and enter a world of waves and eddies, cormorants and horseshoe crabs. In the summer, I exchange a sweaty 7 train for breeze and salt spray.

The author enjoying a summer sunset - courtesy of The Artist Archive

The author enjoying a summer sunset - courtesy of The Artist Archive

After a few months, the routes up and down the river become familiar. But seeing the sun set over Manhattan from the water never gets old.

Written by Jody Godoy. 

This Saturday is their last public paddle of the year. Details here. 

Yearly membership in the North Brooklyn Boat Club is $40 and entitles members to join volunteer-led canoe and kayak trips at various levels throughout the week. For more information, please visit www.northbrooklynboatclub.org

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