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Kayak Tours Put New Yorkers on the East River

There is nothing quite like the view of New York while paddling on the East River, kayaking enthusiasts agree.
There is nothing quite like the view of New York while paddling on the East River, kayaking enthusiasts agree.
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Ted Gruber/LIC Community Boathouse

LONG ISLAND CITY — With the United Nations on one side, Long Island City high-rises on the other and Lower Manhattan's bridges directly ahead, there is no vista quite like the one of the skyline from the East River at sunset.

But this view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges isn't from the deck of a Circle Line cruise. Instead, it can be seen from a kayak gliding down the waterway.

Throughout summer and until the middle of October, kayakers, from the experienced to novices, can enjoy those views during free paddling trips organized by the Long Island City Community Boathouse.

The boathouse is among more than a dozen similar groups in the city, including the North Brooklyn Boathouse in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, the Sebago Canoe Club which takes participants to Jamaica Bay, the Gowanus Dredgers which runs programs on the shorelines of Gowanus Canal, Red Hook and DUMBO, and the Downtown Boathouse with three locations in Manhattan.

“Usually when you think of kayaking, you don’t think of the middle of the city but, rather, upstate New York,” said Kaniz Ali, 20, of Woodside, who took part in a recent trip to the Harlem River.

Billy Lopez, 21, an Astoria resident who just a few days earlier had paddled for the first time and had come back for more, called the venture "so relaxing."

“We’ll do it throughout the summer,” said Lopez, who was with a group of friends.

Led by enthusiastic volunteers, groups of up to 30 people paddle to various destinations, primarily along the East River and mostly on the weekends. Ali and Lopez's trip went down the Harlem River, passing Hell Gate Bridge on their way.

“It’s not as difficult as it seems,” said Bob Hartling, a volunteer at the boathouse, adding that the river current guides the trips.

“We’ll paddle to the Harlem River with the tide,” Hartling said. “Then the tide changes and you go back. You can’t paddle against it.”

Hartling said there is not much commercial traffic on New York rivers any more, and the water is the cleanest that’s ever been recorded, making the experience more enjoyable.

The average trip lasts about two-and-a-half, and the most popular destinations are Brooklyn Bridge Park and Barretto Point Park in the South Bronx.

“These are nice destinations because we can get off the boats and spend an hour or two, get ice cream or pizza,” said Ted Gruber, another volunteer at the boathouse who has been kayaking since childhood.

But a scarcity of places where people can get off the boats remains a problem for kayak enthusiasts paddling along the city’s 520 miles of shoreline, Gruber said.

“We want more places [to go to shore],” Gruber said. “If you ride a bus, you want to have a lot of bus stops.”

One of the stops is Hallets Cove, just north of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Throughout the season, the group brings the boats there and anybody can walk up, sign a waiver and paddle the river for 20 to 30 minutes with sweeping views of Manhattan.

“The skyline is beautiful by day, and it’s beautiful by night,” Gruber said, adding that kayaking “is the best way of admiring it.”

The LIC Community Boathouse is located at 46-01 5th St., Long Island City. To participate make a reservation online.