If you fall in, keep your mouth shut, and other things I learned paddle boarding on the Hudson

paddle boarding in New York City
The writer on her stand-up paddle board amid typical Hudson River traffic

I got the hang of paddle boarding pretty quickly last month at GoldenEye in Jamaica, so I figured I’d be just fine at New York Kayak Co in Manhattan.

I’d stayed upright in the waves of the Caribbean, so how hard could a river be? Actually, very hard.

Mark, our patient and encouraging instructor, told us he’s surfed all over the world and thinks the Hudson is a uniquely challenging environment: strong and quickly shifting tides and currents, heavy boat traffic, piers you can be blown into and under, and, the day I paddled, heavy winds. Even the cove where we began our lesson in was filled with novice kayakers, who we were told might not be able to steer well.

My favorite instructor warning: “The Hudson is clean, but if you fall in, try to keep your mouth shut.”

Because I’d rocked the board in Jamaica, NY Kayak steered me toward the intermediate class, which proved to be a humbling experience. Mark said they should really call the class advanced—and not suggest Hudson newbies sign up for it. The two-hour class often paddles to New Jersey and back! Between strong wind and weak triceps, that wasn’t going to happen. We went around Pier 40 and into the next cove, where I learned to turn in wind, steered through pilings, and attempted to move forward into a headwind—the SUP equivalent of running on a treadmill.

Eventually I mustered the strength to make it back, adrenaline pumping much harder than it had in the Caribbean. Aside from (because of?) some moments of terror, it was uniquely exhilarating here, and I feel like a badass for having finished the class with only one wipeout—when I got cocky about my good balance at the end and let a big boat wake knock me off (though my closed mouth remained above water). A day later I can barely move—it’s a formidable workout—but I’d go back again. As a beginner. —Ann Abel

To book a tour, lesson, or stand-up paddling trip on the Hudson, visit www.nykayak.com

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