Frequently Asked Questions on Kayak Commuting

Here is what the Oru kayak plus all my gear look like loaded up on the bike.  While the kayak is not all that heavy, it is a bit awkwardly shaped for my rack.  Coincidentally, it fits perfectly squeezed under my seat and tends to stay put when secured using bungee cables.

Here is what the Oru kayak plus all my gear look like loaded up on the bike. While the kayak is not all that heavy, it is a bit awkwardly shaped for my rack. Fortunately, it squeezes under my seat just right and tends to stay put when secured using bungee cables.

Last Friday I loaded the Oru Kayak onto my bike in the morning for only the second time and headed out to work.  It was to be my first round trip kayak commute.  Given the tricky logistics of a one-way kayak commute, I was very much looking forward to getting in some more paddling without having to carry the kayak half a mile into my office first.  Predictably, the process of setting up and dismantling the boat in Manhattan always attracts a crowd of curious onlookers with myriad questions.  I’ve also gotten quite a few questions from friends and colleagues both online and in real life.  Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions I’ve received.

  • Can anyone just go down to the Hudson River and start paddling around in one of these?
    • Pretty much, yes.  Technically one needs a permit from NYC Parks to launch from NYC, but I’ve never been asked to show it.  The coast guard also has some reasonable rules, like you must wear a PFD (life jacket) and you must have a whistle or horn.
Just an ordinary commuter bound for New Jersey.

Just an ordinary commuter bound for New Jersey.

  • How easy is it to fold and unfold the Oru kayak?
    • I have the Bay+ model, which may be a slight improvement over the previous model.  Overall it takes me just under 20 minutes to set up the boat, including inflating the float bags and loading all my gear.  Dismantling and folding back into box form takes about 10 minutes.  With more experience I could probably shave another few minutes off each time.
Arriving at the Little Morris Canal Basin in Jersey City.

Arriving at the rocky beach along the Little Morris Canal Basin in Jersey City.

  • How does the Oru compare to rigid sea kayaks?
    • The Oru is considerably lighter than most sea kayaks, and sits a bit higher in the water.  This can be quite noticeable in windy conditions, as the kayak tends to be carried by the wind.  It is pretty short at just 12 feet, and is noticeably slower than the 17-foot Necky I paddled with NY Kayak Club, but also slightly more stable.  The corrugated plastic has already split apart at the ends from some minor impacts, and I have some doubts as to whether it will withstand several seasons of my style of kayaking.  Other than that, it handles remarkably well for the price and convenience.  The cockpit is larger than most sea kayaks, making it easier to get in and out but also harder to execute some of the more advanced kayaking maneuvers.
IMG_4827

I left the kayak here during the day, secured by a long chain to a steel brace under the boardwalk.

  • I cross a river as part of my commute and I want to do this, too!  Would you recommend it?
    • I certainly would, but I wouldn’t recommend attempting this alone unless you are relatively physically fit.  While most of the time I’m paddling at a pace almost anyone can handle, there are occasionally moments when I have to speed up and my strength and endurance are tested.
My landmark on the New Jersey side of the Hudson is the Colgate Clock.  It's also easy to spot at it sits beside NJ's tallest building, the Goldman Sachs tower.

My landmark on the New Jersey side of the Hudson is the Colgate Clock. It’s also easy to spot as it sits beside NJ’s tallest building, the Goldman Sachs tower.

  • Have you faced any close calls with other boats, ferries, or barges?  Isn’t it really busy out there?
    • Yes, it’s busy, but most motor boats will give you a fairly wide berth when passing.  If a boat is particularly large or traveling particularly fast, I will often have to turn my kayak to slice into its wake and avoid being capsized.
View of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in typically choppy waters.

View of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the typically choppy waters in the open Hudson River.

  • What happens if you capsize?  Isn’t it dangerous?  Won’t your electronics get wet?
    • I have capsized in the past (twice, actually) in rigid kayaks, and I practiced a self-rescue in the Oru, so I am prepared for that eventuality.  Yes, it is a little dangerous, but with experience I’m building more confidence in my ability to handle it.  All my gear is in a dry bag inside the kayak, and the phone is in a waterproof case.  Both the phone and the paddle are tethered to me, so the main risk is being separated from the kayak.  So long as I stay close to the kayak I’m confident that even in a worst case scenario I can always get back to one of the many other kayak landing sites along the Hudson River or the Upper Hudson Bay.
The mouth of the Morris Canal.  Strong currents and frequent ferries make crossing this point one of the more challenging parts of the trip.

The mouth of the Morris Canal. Strong currents and frequent ferries make crossing this point one of the more challenging parts of the trip.

  • How long does it take to cross the Hudson?
    • Going straight across probably takes about 15-20 minutes, but the current will carry you quite a distance in that time.  If the current happens to be going your way, or is slack, it will probably not take you much longer than that to complete your journey.  On the other hand, just traveling about 3/4 of a mile against the current added about 25 minutes to my trip once.
In the morning I had to drag the kayak about 20 feet from the water's edge to its parking spot.  When I came back in the afternoon it was floating in a few inches of water.  Beware of changes to the landscape due to tides!

In the morning I had to drag the kayak about 20 feet from the water’s edge to its parking spot. When I came back in the afternoon it was floating in a few inches of water. Beware of changes to the landscape due to tides!

  • How long does the whole process take door-to-door?
    • My apartment is about a half hour bike ride from the pier where I put in, and my office is a 5 minute walk from where I land.  In between, setting up the kayak, paddling across, and securing it on the other side takes a little over an hour.  The reverse process takes a little under an hour.
Homeward bound!

Homeward bound!

  • Is kayaking good exercise?
    • It’s pretty good, but it’s still difficult to put in a consistently strong effort while keeping the kayak on course and avoiding boat traffic.  It probably is about as strenuous as riding a bike at 14-15 MPH.  However it does work a completely different part of your body from either cycling or running, making it great for cross-training.
Back on shore on Pier 25 in Manhattan, the kayak is loaded up and ready to go home.

Back on shore at Pier 25 in Manhattan, the kayak is loaded up and ready to go home.

  • How much does all this cost?
    • I got the kayak itself, the Bay+, on sale from REI for about $1300.  OruKayak.com sells it for $1575.  From everything I’ve read I believe the “+” models are worth the premium over the original models.  If you can afford it, you may want to wait for the Coast+ ($2475) 16-foot model to become available in 2016.  You will also need a paddle ($50-$200) and PFD ($50-$100), and I highly recommend a spray skirt ($100-$150), float bags ($70), dry bags ($25), and a self-rescue kit ($65).
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3 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions on Kayak Commuting

  1. Thanks for the details. I can definitely see that being a great way to start the day and a stress reliever afterwards. Do you ever take your Kayak on other trips during the weekend?

    • Hey there. It is really a great way to have fun commuting. I wish I could take it on weekend trips, but as I talk about elsewhere on the blog I also live car-free/car-light, and it’s often a pain to take it along with everything else for a weekend trip that won’t be exclusively about kayaking. It is also a bit antisocial to take a kayak when none of my friends or family have one.

      • Ah, that makes sense. I have a tandem with my husband so that helps a little on the social aspect but we’ve run into a similar antisocial problem of not being able to invite our friends for the same reason. That’s why we’ve joined a kayak meet up group, to try to make some kayaking friends too (while making sure we’re still keeping in touch with our good friends whose only fault is not paddling). It’s a difficult life balance 🙂

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