Sandy York describes herself as an outdoors enthusiast who hikes, cycles and cross-country skis when conditions are right in Western New York.
She moved from Youngstown during the spring into a house along Ellicott Creek in the Town of Tonawanda and, naturally, decided to try kayaking. She took an introductory class last month just up the road at Paths, Peaks & Paddles. She also tried out the company’s guided Tuesday evening creek tours, 4-mile sojourns to Interstate 990 and back that have become at least a twice-monthly ritual.
“As soon as I get in the water and push off the shore, I feel the stress melt away,” said the CPA with Freed Maxick in downtown Buffalo.
York is among a legion of new fans lured aboard a kayak or stand-up paddleboard this summer for fun, fitness and the chance to drink in nature.
“We know what a treasured time this is, especially in Buffalo,” said Marcia Gray-Wilkerson, head PaddleFit instructor for Longboards Paddle Co.
Paddling a kayak or paddleboard costs lots less than a boat, she said, and improves mood, balance and endurance – all while providing “sneaky fitness.”
Here are three companies in key parts of the region that can help you test the waters.
1. BFLO HARBOR KAYAK
(1 Naval Park Cove, Canalside; bfloharborkayak.com)
The story: Jason Schwinger was among the first entrepreneurs to take a chance on Canalside when he opened BFLO Harbor Kayak in 2009, long before concerts, fitness classes and Adirondack chairs were gleams in the eyes of waterfront planners. The no-frills business anchors the southeast corner of Buffalo’s waterfront mecca – near a children’s beach along the boardwalk – and rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards ready to roll into Buffalo Harbor. Another business, Water Bikes of Buffalo (waterbikesofbuffalo.com), offers pontoon-style vessels from a booth next door.
Services: Along with hourly and daily kayak and paddleboard rentals, BFLO Harbor Kayak offers 90-minute Silo City, sunrise and sunset tours.
Rates: $20 per hour and $50 per day for kayaks and SUPs on a walk-up basis; book the $30 guided tours online.
2. LONGBOARDS PADDLE CO.
(Woodlawn Beach State Park and Hamburg Town Park beaches, both on Lakeshore Road (Route 5), Hamburg; Buffalo RiverWorks, 359 Ganson St., Old First Ward; Wilkeson Pointe, 225 Fuhrmann Blvd., Outer Harbor; longboardsbeach.com)
The story: Nancy Maisano is a former teacher who decided to submit a bid in 2012 to operate a concession stand at Hamburg Town Park Beach. The next year, she expanded her business to nearby Woodlawn Beach State Park, renting 10 kayaks and four paddleboards. This summer, she and her husband, Mark, a corporate executive, have parlayed Longboards at the Beach and Longboards Paddle Co. into a pair of locations each on the Buffalo and Hamburg waterfronts that collectively rent more than 75 kayaks, more than 30 paddleboards and several hydrobikes. Gray-Wilkerson, a former orthodontic office manager, is a certified personal trainer, group fitness and PaddleFit Pro instructor with the company. Maisano was a client of hers in an indoor Hamburg fitness class and asked her three years ago if she was interested in learning how to teach stand-up paddleboarding. “I had never seen a paddleboard in my life,” said Gray-Wilkerson, who leads SUP beginner and fitness classes for Longboards. Her favorite? A 5:30 a.m. Friday session at Hamburg Beach as the sun comes up over the Ford plant along Lake Erie.
“It’s become a #longboards life,” Maisano said.
Services: All four sites offer kayak and hydrobike rentals. All but Woodlawn Beach offer paddleboard rentals, and RiverWorks tends to be the least weather-dependent spot. Wind and surf conditions can cancel paddleboard rentals and classes, Gray-Wilkerson said, though she has seen a growing interest. “A lot of people see it and ask, ‘What is that. It looks fun.’ They want to conquer a fear or give something different a shot.” Kayaks and paddleboards also are available for sale. Longboards has a concession stand, which includes healthy options, at Hamburg Beach.
Rates: Kayak rentals run $20 per hour or $55 per day; SUPs, $20 per hour and $60 per day. Hydrobikes cost $18 per hour. Hourlong paddlebaord fitness classes cost $25; beginner lessons vary from as little as $30 for a group lesson to $50 for an individual lesson.
3. PATHS, PEAKS & PADDLES
(1000 Ellicott Creek Road at Woodstock Avenue, Town of Tonawanda; 213-0350; pathspeakspaddles.com)
The story: “Welcome to the candy store for outdoor people,” company co-owner Oren Barris said as this week’s Tuesday night paddle was about to start across Ellicott Creek Road from the shop. He and Norman Pearson, who died in 2005, started the business in 1991. Christine Baer became a co-owner a dozen years ago, when Paths, Peaks & Paddles moved from Transit Road in East Amherst to its current location.
York was among 11 kayakers who joined the Tuesday night tour. She decided a few weeks ago to spend more than $1,200 to buy and outfit a durable, 14-foot Prijon kayak she expects will help bring a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment. “If you’re going to get a kayak, it is quite an investment,” she said. “I wanted to learn how to be safe and appreciated a place to come where they looked out for my safety.”
The tour is free for those who own kayaks. Mary Jane Lauck and Joann Brooks, who came down from Wheatfield, paid $25 to rent kayaks for the two-plus-hour tour. “I wanted to be able to get out with a group of people,” said Lauck, a computer analyst who rarely hits the water. Barris showed the two women how to safely get into their vessels and helped them on their way.
“My mantra is ‘Get off the couch and join us,’ ” he said.
A trip on Ellicott Creek is far different than the often crowded, more expansive Buffalo waterfront. You’re as likely to see turtles, heron, and egrets there as other kayakers. Willows, oaks and maple buffet most of the waterway from its nearby surroundings.
“If you’re on the road, it looks like a creek,” Baer said. “When you’re on the water, it’s really very pretty.”
Services: This full-service livery, outfitting and guide service provides paddling, hiking and backpacking tours and supplies, and sells and rents canoes, kayaks and accessories.
Rates: Per-hour rates range from $17.50 for a canoe to $30 for a pedal-drive Hobie kayak. Daily kayak rate is $45. Mommy & Me, Lads & Dads and senior paddle tours, which run various days and times, cost $12. Tuesday night tours on Ellicott Creek and Thursday night tours at Twelve Mile Creek in Wilson are free for those with kayaks. Those without can rent a single for $25 and a tandem for $35. You must wear a personal flotation device, alcohol and cellphone use are prohibited, and you must stay with the group. See the website for other excursions.