Sunday, May 30, 2010

Windsurfing in Manhattan

I had never seen anyone windsurf on the Hudson River for as long as I'd been here. I spent three years seeking it out and figured the concentrated boat traffic was way too dangerous for beginners to be unintentionally blown into. Of course, this most recent New York relocation has exposed me to the unreal. In April, I joined this windsurfing meetup, which was born two months after I left New York in late 2008.

At my first meeting, a member of the group, Michael, approached us and tried to recruit us to take part in the Hudson River pageant, which involves windsurfing in the Hudson river behind decorative kayaks and canoes in a whimsical water dance-like presentation. What made this more appealing was that without this "performing permit" excuse, windsurfing is forbidden on the Hudson. Without blinking, I volunteered. As the event got closer to date, I did some research and discovered that the Hudson River is rarely windy, and there was major concern regarding the current, which is a problem if stronger than the wind.

The day before the event, I questioned my competency on the water and was terrified of being dragged into a barge by strong currents that my wind-driven sail couldn't possibly escape from.

The next morning, Saturday May 22nd, our recruited windsurfing team strapped the gear to the roof of some car with man-made roof racks and drove down the pothole streets to Pier 40, balancing shit on the roof and waving at surfer hopefuls on the way.

"Dude, where are you going with that?"
"The Hudson River, where else?"
"Yeah, I know"

Now, let me digress and mention this time where I took the Community Boating kids to Cape Cod to go windsurfing. When we arrived at Kalmus beach,past the parking lot, where there was just sand dunes, sharp grass and patchem eggs, the car windows, which were ajar, started to whistle, and without even looking at the water, we knew the wind was cranking. The car was silent until we went over the bank, revealing white caps spilling off the shallow waves. These kids went wild, punching and slapping the roof, howling with the window. I could tell, this was going to be a great day.

So, we approach Pier 40, I didn't hear anything, because even though we were only 100 feet from the water, we were still surrounded by concrete. We unloaded our gear onto a wagon-type structure, and I was already tired, because the gear was really heavy and it was humid, hot and windless. I was afraid. Michael said on the car ride over that it had to be blowing at least 10 knots against the current for us to go anywhere, because the current moves 5 knots, which is one of the strongest currents, certainly the strongest I had ever encountered. I fooled him into thinking that I didn't care about how little wind there was. That was a lie. You don't load, unload and rig your sails just to go cruise around. In my mind, I thought, this better be worth it.

We wheeled our gear over to the kayak dock, and we finally felt the wind. It was blowing a gusty 20 from the East, which didn't make any sense, because we were getting the wind that went through Manhattan before it hit us, but it was still strong, and unsteady but manageable. I took a heavy board, (the equivalent of a hyfly primo) and a 5.0 sail, and I still flew. Planing, falling, carving, it was unreal. Unreal. And the wakes from the motor boats and barges made my path feel like this fun and twisted obstacle course.

I hadn't gone windsurfing since last September, and I relived some moments from my last sail, but with a little twist.

I had a boring, plowing reach as I pointed toward the Statue of Liberty, steering clear of the Coast Guard pier. Dark ripply waters and a deep wake were heading my way, so I cautiously tacked around, saying to myself, don't let the wake take you down. You got this. This is gonna be good, Liz." I sheeted in, sank low, and let the Manhattan air pull me out of displacement and into fleeting oblivion. Tourists with cameras waited for my arrival, and I carved upwind with one hand and pretended to take a drag of a cigarette with the other. Then, like all upwind endings, I fell in with an uneventful splash, which my sister happily got a picture of.

On our way in, one of the windsurfers hit a kayaker, ensuring that we'll never get to windsurf on the Hudson ever again. Honestly, that just made this day more special.