On the Water

In Boston, kayaking can be just a T ride away

Sunny and Shaina Gleason took off from Charles River Canoe & Kayak. Sunny and Shaina Gleason took off from Charles River Canoe & Kayak. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Vivian Yee
Globe Correspondent / July 16, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE - On a recent breezy afternoon, five minutes away from the Kendall Square/MIT T stop, across from the futuristic-looking Genzyme headquarters, and a few steps from a sleek concrete pavilion, Wil Viozzi was discovering a new extreme water sport.

“It’s my first time,’’ he said, clambering out of a small kayak that bobbed gently in the shadow of a nearby parking garage. “I love to live dangerously.’’

The danger of his hourlong kayaking excursion down the Charles River involved little more than two sore shoulders, but Viozzi, 23, was ready for bigger challenges.

“You finally get to see the world from the other side,’’ he said, grimacing as he rotated his shoulders on dry land. “You’re moving fast, but everything else is still.’’

Viozzi and his friend, Matthew McHugh, 23, were just two of dozens of casual boaters who escaped the city Wednesday by renting kayaks from a dock in Cambridge, paddling downriver, and returning refreshed - and sore. It was the first time for many. And most might not have come if the dock had been less convenient: Until recently, those who wanted to kayak or canoe in Boston waters usually had to own their own watercraft or rent from places in Newton or farther away.

Now, docks in Allston, Cambridge, and Dorchester, all near the T, mean that a paddling excursion can be a few stops away on the Red Line.

“Sometimes it can be hard to find outdoorsy things to do in Boston, but kayaking is one of them,’’ said Rachel Shepard, 22, of Cambridge, who planned to spend a couple of hours paddling to Allston and back with Bob Hammerling, 27, of Somerville.

This year marks Charles River Canoe & Kayak’s second season at the rental company’s Kendall Square location, said John Pyne, the location’s manager. Kayaks’ maneuverability make them a popular choice among the amateur boaters - often young couples and small groups of friends - who come to the river to relax on their days off or after work.

“It’s so rare that we have a weekday off from work,’’ said Pamela Comey, 28, who lives in Cambridge. “So our first criteria for today was doing something outside.’’

She and her kayaking partner, Alex DiDonato, 29, had paddled near the Esplanade, wanting to see the Hatch Shell from the water.

“The river seems bigger, huge, in such a small boat,’’ she said, “especially when the duck boats are coming at you.’’

Shivani Pathak, 22, a Beacon Hill resident who had the day off, had invited her friend Lucy Sherman, 23, of Brighton, for an hour of kayaking. The two had paddled to the Boston University bridge before deciding to float and watch the ducks go by.

“We paddle a little ways, and then the sun hits and we drop our feet in,’’ said Sherman.

Not all were there to relax.

Hingham resident Sunny Gleason, 33, has come to the Kendall Square dock two or three times a week since the rental location opened a block from his office. He has a mission: to train for next Saturday’s Blackburn Challenge, a 20-mile sea kayaking race off Cape Ann that he has completed twice. By ticking off each bridge he passes on the Charles, Gleason can tell how fast he is paddling.

“And she’s my coach,’’ he joked, pointing to Shana Gleason, 33, who joins him about once a week.

“I just tell him, you know, ‘Just keep paddling,’ or ‘You look strong,’ ’’ she said, laughing, as they prepared to lower themselves into a two-person kayak. Sunny steered from the back, and Shana, who admits to taking the occasional break from paddling on their trips, rode in front.

Ruth Rothstein’s kayaking partner is not much help, either: She’s a dog. Because most beaches are closed to dogs, kayaking is a good way to relax with them on the water, Rothstein explained, as her 6-year-old mutt, Betty, sprang out of their kayak onto the dock and began sniffing a staff member’s lunch.

“She’s very calm on the water,’’ Rothstein said, as she unzipped Betty’s dog-sized life jacket.

People who own watercraft can launch from public docks around Boston and Cambridge, as well as rent boats there, as Justin Heinold, 30, of Somerville, discovered this week. After renting a canoe for the first time this month to watch the Independence Day fireworks, Heinold decided to buy his own inflatable kayak. Bright orange, it folds into a compact bundle with straps.

“I’ll come as often as I can,’’ he said, as he deflated the kayak. “I might be back tomorrow.’’

Vivian Yee can be reached at

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