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A rising tide of interest in WNY paddle sports

The thirst for free kayak instruction has been palpable this summer, so much so that Tina Spencer’s Smartstart beginner classes at Beaver Island, Buffalo Harbor and Wilson Tuscarora state parks filled up shortly after they were announced.

In recent years, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper also offered free guided kayak tours, mostly in and around Buffalo Harbor. Sponsorship underwriting changed this year, however, so the nonprofit is offering several tours this season in Erie and Niagara counties for $10 or $20, including use of one of their 40 kayaks and other equipment.

“Now that kayaking is so popular – and it’s great to see so many people out there – we want to expand the opportunity for people to experience other waterways in the region,” said Jill S. Jedlicka, executive director of Riverkeeper.

Jedlicka explained the growing popularity of water fitness in the region as a cultural shift.

“For many, many years, Riverkeeper and many other groups have reminded people what we are a Great Lakes City, a waterfront city, and we’ve had this reawakening into our waterways,” she said.

The first aim was to get people down to the waterfront. Then came the push for greater access. “Now were at the point where people actually want to get into the water,” she said.


The Buffalo Harbor, off Canalside, has become a popular spot for paddlers. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The Buffalo Harbor, off Canalside, has become a popular spot for paddlers. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The enthusiasm comes with a caveat: Coast Guard and others charged with safety on the region’s waterways have expressed concerns this summer that increased kayak and paddleboard traffic – particularly in Buffalo Harbor and its tributaries – has raised the prospects for collisions with motorized craft. The maximum speed limit for vessels in that territory is 10 mph.

“Our staff will tell everyone that goes out, everyone, that they need to treat the Buffalo River or the harbor like they are main highways, and they’re the bikers,” said Nancy Maisano, owner of Longboards Paddle Co., which has two locations on the Buffalo waterfront. “They need to stay on the sides of these busy lanes and that main channel – that main lane – needs to be open for boats.”

Most companies who rent kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, including Longboards, and who guide group trips insist that users wear personal flotation devices that have whistles to warn boat traffic if things appear to be getting uncomfortably close.

That said, some green will go a long way when it comes to learning how to paddle.

LEARN This website and its Facebook page keep people up to date on outings and has links to several paddle-related and outdoor websites across Western New York and Southern Ontario. Certified instructors Jeff and Laura Liebel teach other paddling instructors in the region but also offer classes to enthusiasts of all abilities. Their website also has a “Places to Paddle” section. Includes tips and videos on how to be safe on the water; search “paddling.”


Adventure Bound OnTheFly ( Offers kayaking and SUP experiences in Ellicottville and the surrounding area.

Blue Water Marina ( Full-service marina on Grand Island.

Buffalo River Canoe and Kayak Outfitters ( West Seneca company rents equipment hourly and provides guided excursions.

Elevator Alley Kayak ( Rents kayaks from the Barrel Factory, just yards from Waterfront Park in the Old First Ward, for $25 per two hours. Also leads guided tours from the park and leads kayak instruction from there. Sells kayaks and accessories from its retail shop.

Oak Orchard Canoe Kayak ( Rents canoes, kayaks, SUPs in Waterport.

Waterbike and Boat Adventures ( City of Tonawanda company rents hydrobikes and kayaks for $10 an hour.


Marie Phillips leads stand-up paddleboard yoga classes at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island and in Buffalo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Marie Phillips leads stand-up paddleboard yoga classes at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island and in Buffalo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

City of Light Fitness ( Gives lessons in and around the Buffalo waterfront.

SUP Erie Adventures ( A mobile paddleboard instruction, excursion and fitness business based at Sunset Bay.

Marie Phillips ( Teaches SUP yoga and fitness classes at Canalside, as well as Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.

GET WITH A GROUP The popular social networking site includes dozens of enthusiasts who are part of Buffalo Paddle People and Hamburg Kayaking groups.

WNY Adaptive Water Sports: Free fishing, sailing, scuba diving and water-ski outings for those with special needs. For dates and reservations, call 364-8219.

Yahoo meetup: Vanessa Wazny, of Lake View, has run a message board on Yahoo chat ( for several years, letting folks know where she and other enthusiasts will be paddling. “It’s a very informal group,” she says. “It’s not a club. If people come with us, we’re kind of strict on safety.”

Zoar Valley Paddling Club ( This whitewater paddling club focuses on Western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania sites and excursions.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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