See these beautiful people? None of them are me.
That’s probably because I was back in the shipping container that doubles as an office for the Brooklyn Boathouse taking a Benadryl, or blowing my nose or fumbling with my PFD (extra credit if you know what that is).
I’ve long feared that I might perish by a.) Falling down a flight of subway stairs, b.) Getting hit by a taxi while holding a piece of pizza, or c.) Being imprisoned in a foreign country. Turns out I might’ve met my match in the East River.
I’ve always wanted to kayak. Sure, I’ve done the Bahamas paddle in those big wide sea kayaks, I’ve canoed on an Adirondack lake (okay, sat and smoked in the dark in the middle of it) and I’ve even been whitewater rafting in the Royal Gorge. But I’ve never been in a deck boat. That’s mostly because up until Saturday I was pretty much chicken shit to have my legs trapped in a narrow plastic torpedo. However, gimme time, people, and I always come around.
God, what a gorgeous day to drink river water. Last Saturday, a friend and I headed down to the Brooklyn Boat House (which is really the 2 aforementioned shipping containers down in Brooklyn Bridge park) to take a Level 1 Kayak class taught by Tom Potter, a mellow, water-loving hybrid of every man I’ve met in Colorado and a really nice violin teacher I once had. Pleasant, easygoing and totally in love with kayaking, Tom teaches with Todd, whose glam gear belied the fact that he’d paddled over from Red Hook that morning and regularly circumnavigates Manhattan in a deck boat.
Here’s the deal with these guys: their sport is quickly morphing into a community in Brooklyn and they need volunteers. You can snag a deal on the price of a course (regularly $125) if you agree to volunteer at the boathouse at some point during the summer. If you’re awesome like nearly everyone in my class, you can reasonably assume that by the end of a Level 1 course you will be able to be of some use.
In the morning you learn basic strokes (forward, reverse), practice paddling sideways (you kinda have to see this) and learn to pinwheel. Then there’s lunch on the flawless restored grass at the edge of the water. By then you’re past your fear that at any moment you could tip over (though you totally can) and have accepted that your hips have to pivot in order to do basically anything in a deck boat.
The second part of the day involves something called a “wet exit”, which you read about in the FAQ’s days before and, if you’re like me, begin to slowly stew over. Bottom line: you gotta tip over, free yourself and be rescued by a fellow novice. Then you gotta rescue someone else. That all works fine…if you can get back into your boat. After capsizing I followed directions while internally panicking that everyone in the kayak circle observing me had taken half the time to get back into their boats. But, I just. Couldn’t. Get. In. There. First of all, there’s nothing under you but water! Second, the East River’s kinda chilly and salty and well, dark and mighty. And if you have the misfortune to be rescued by a mildy attractive dude wearing Cavalli sunglasses, then you’re kinda just…gonna need a sling. I needed a sling. And a sling is really just a little rope that gets looped around your foot, which you are supposed to use as some kind of ladder.
But! I totally dug it. And you can do it and dig it too. Anyone at any level of experience is welcome. I’m covered in bruises from flailing around like a drowning Koi and my pride is still a little achy. But I have to recommend the experience. You’re at the foot of Manhattan, you’re active and adrenalized and the instructors are patient and competent and love what they do. Afterward, you can go to Pedro’s on Jay Street for really strong mojitos and fish tacos and pretend you live in Santa Monica. Or not. Because you live in New York and in New York we might fall out of our boats, but we always get back in.