Brooklyn, NY – June 14-17, 2013
Brooklyn Bridge Park is glorious on a sunny day. Green grass. Manhattan’s skyline across the East River. People stretched out in the sun.
The water looks calm from far away. The wind is down. There aren’t any waves. The tide is almost invisible. I can’t believe it’s the same water I arrived on. It’s glorious, beautiful, perfect to paddle on.
I look out across the harbor. Tug boats and ferries crisscross the water. A freighter waits moored between channels. Barges and seaports line the far shore.
I don’t see a single paddler.
It’s no wonder that people gawked at me paddling by the Brooklyn shore or along Manhattan’s seawall. I didn’t fit in their notion of the water. They think the harbor is the domain of industry, commerce, and transportation, not a playground, not a place for adventure, not a public space.
That mentality needs to change. It’s the reason rivers become dumping grounds, nothing but shipping lanes and open sewers. When you’re in the water paddling, you don’t see it as someone else’s. You don’t think it belongs to tugboats, barges, and ferries. It’s splashing on top of you and soaking in your clothes. It shifts from the river to your river. You feel ownership over it. You want to protect it. You care.
285,000 people care because of the Downtown Boathouse in New York. Not one of them paid a dime. They all paddled for free.
Walk up, borrow a boat, and paddle. It is that simple.
All volunteers, all donations, the Downtown Boathouse gives people a chance to see the Hudson River up close for nothing, no fees, no catches. Volunteers sacrifice free weekends, money, and nights after work to build docks and racks, to find space along the waterfront, to hold classes and help loan boats because they want to make sure anyone can access New York City’s water, not for transportation, not for industry or commerce, but just for fun, because it’s their river too.
That’s the beauty of water. It’s as much ours as we want it to be.
If you’re in New York and want to paddle a bit, check out the Downtown Boathouse or help support them with donations (I did and it feels great to help such a fantastic cause). I didn’t get to borrow one of their boats to paddle around on (the Looksha would be so jealous!), but I met some of their volunteers and they are some of the nicest, knowledgeable paddlers around. Plus, since it’s an all volunteer operation, any donations go right into supporting their paddling programs. Donations or not, they’ll put you on the water in a safe environment where you can experience New York City from a different perspective. It’s a great organization with fantastic goals that understands an often forgotten truth: enjoying the environment is an important piece of protecting it.