Kayaking Duo Paddle Across Hudson for Daily Commute

By Tuan NguyenAlan Neuhauser and Amy Zimmer  on June 18, 2012 7:18am

CHELSEA — Forget about crowds on the PATH train, traffic jams on the bus, or the $20 round-trip ride on the ferry. 

Two New Jersey digital media entrepreneurs have ditched the standard commute to get to their jobs in Manhattan for something a bit more rugged — and wet.

Zach Schwitzky and Erik David Barber, both 29, kayak from Hoboken across the Hudson River in 20 minutes, on average, landing at Pier 66 near West 27th Street.

Some days, they dock their watercraft at a pier at the Manhattan Kayak Company. Otherwise, they wheel or carry their kayaks through the Hudson River Park, up to West 34th Street, past the Javits Center on 11th Avenue and up to their building on West 37th Street near 10th Avenue.

They squeeze their kayaks into the service elevator and park them inside their office, where the vessels are not out of place among soccer balls, golf clubs and baseball bats.

"Coming from Hoboken, we've got the bus, the ferry and the PATH train," said Schwitzky, who stores the kayaks outside of his waterfront apartment complex in Hoboken. "During rush hour, it's a lot of people on top of each other — not a very enjoyable commute."

They try to leave in the morning before 7 a.m. to avoid other water traffic.

"We've had a couple of close calls with barges and water taxis," Barber said. "You definitely have to keep your head on a swivel."

At night, they leave whenever their work is done — and don't have to worry about train or bus schedules, the men pointed out.

The duo, who met 10 years ago playing baseball for San Diego State University, began their waterborne commute in the icy waters of February, traveling that way two days a week. Barber would wear a wet suit, while Schwitzky donned a light jacket.

Now they average four days a week on the water, but not always in tandem.

On a recent Friday, Schwitzky made the trek solo, as Barber worked a late night and ended up sleeping on a blow-up bed in the office for Newlio, a social-networking marketing platform they began to develop in 2011 and expect to launch this year.

Their startup has a green initiative to reduce its carbon footprint, so that, too, helped inspire their paddle-powered commute. Plus, they enjoy the exercise, even when they have to fight against a strong current, the kayakers explained.

"Some days the current can drift," said Schwitzky, the co-founder and CEO of Newlio. "Once I ended up at West 13th Street, paddling as hard as I could."  Also, when there are many water taxis, they've gotten caught in wakes that feel like the Bermuda Triangle, he said.

"[But] when we hit the water, it's worth it. The openness, the calmness," said Barber, Newlio's campaign manager. "We were working very long hours and enjoying it because we're building something we're passionate about, but there was no time to work out."

They get to exercise not only during the paddle, but also when carrying their kayaks through the streets, Barber said.

"We actually wish it took longer than 20 minutes sometimes," he added.

Their kayaks — which cost from $1,200 to $1,500 — were donated by the Tennessee-based Jackson Kayak and were selected specifically for their urban demands, with compartments and waterproof bags for their laptops.

They do wear blazers occasionally when they kayak, but not full suits. They haven't worn suits in the nearly two years since starting the company, Schwitzky said.

A few fellow New Jerseyans have expressed interest in joining, he noted, but there haven't been any takers yet.

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