Paddling Through LI's Waterways

Experienced by A. Dollinger & A. Wroblewski

(*As featured in our 7/31/14 issues*)

The brightly-colored boats were in seeming competition with the sun-lit sky for attention. The seagulls were resting on the sandy shore, but we were not. 

Armed with kayaks and double-edged paddles, Long Islander News took to the waters of Cold Spring Harbor earlier this month. Out of Inner Harbor, across the street from the Cold Spring Harbor Library and across the water from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, we suited up for the first time with an experienced hand to guide us through the kayaking basics.

“Sit here,” he said. “Move your knees like this and rest your feet on the pedals.”

The voice of kayaking wisdom was Kevin Stiegelmaier – a Setauket-based author who has two kayak-centric books under his belt.

Just as he does through his books, “Paddling Long Island and New York City” and “Canoeing and Kayaking New York,” Kevin steered us through. He showed us how to “feather” our paddles – with the press of a button and the turn of a metal rod, a user can turn each paddle to a different angle – and pushed our boats into the water.

But his guidance was only momentary. Within minutes, as a result of either fear of falling into the water or infatuation with the scenery, we were paddling like we were peers in the world of kayaking.

“Let’s race,” Arielle said as Andrew immediately prepared his paddle for the challenge. Kevin looked on, unaffected. Andrew would call it a tie; Arielle would argue that she won.

Although our boats did bump into each other, the race was an indication that pretty much anyone can feel comfortable in a kayak – even first-timers like us.

Though Kevin did mention potential kayakers must be old enough to maintain balance and paddle, it’s difficult to put a number on it. Kevin said he’s gotten his own small children into kayaks as early, and often, as possible. He did mention, however, that doing so typically means taking his 5-year-old son, William, as a passenger while he handles the steering and paddling himself. His 7-year-old daughter, Annie, accompanies them in her own kayak.

After emerging from a maze of boats calmly stationed throughout Inner Harbor, we paddled toward the opposing shoreline.

The shoreline was dotted with white shapes. As we neared them, we saw the swans.

 “I’ve had them attack me before,” Kevin said.

“What happens when they do?” we asked.

“That’s what the paddle is for,” he said grinning.

Luckily, we did not come into direct contact with the swans. We eased closer and took photos – there’s a convenient compartment in the kayak, which happened to have been the perfect size for an iPhone – and kept a respectful distance.

We paddled away from the swans and up through the harbor, toward the beach and into clearer water devoid of seaweed. Battling a strong current, we pushed forward with already-sore arms.

After reaching another sea of boats, and stopping to greet a bird on a buoy, it was time to head back. We’re not sure that our arms could have taken much more.

On the journey back, we passed a couple of stand-up paddle boarders who sparked the idea for our next potential Long Islander News adventure.