Practically every town has a creek. Gail Porter of I Paddle New York in Saugerties makes a living off sharing the history and views along ours, the Esopus, and the Hudson River too. I accompanied her and a young Saugerties couple on her “Sunset Tour,” a $45 jaunt starting at the Saugerties Steamboat Company and ending with watermelon, tired arms and the sun disappearing behind the Catskills.
“Quite a few years ago, when life was going a bit sideways, I found that after paddling in the Hudson in the sunshine, I’d feel at peace and be able to relax a bit,” said Porter of her business’ beginnings. “I couldn’t believe that everyone wasn’t out in the river… the business began from just wanting to show people how pretty it is here and turn them on to paddling—I hoped they would fall in love with it and how it made them feel after a few hours out on the water.”
This particular tour sets out from the Saugerties Steamboat Company landing, taking kayakers as close as possible to the Cantine Dam, then slings around the famed Saugerties Lighthouse and culminates in a sunset view of the Catskill Mountains from where the Esopus and Hudson meet. Porter pointed out the ruins of industries once powered by the dam, and where steamboats once docked that carried goods and passengers up and down the Hudson, which Porter called “the highway to the world.” Porter says that she “collects” sunsets, and described the changing position of the setting sun throughout the year.
Her business model, the falling in love on the water part, was successful — in at least my case. The first time I had paddled with Porter was a year prior to the Esopus Bend Preserve, labeled “the Esopus Paddle” on Porter’s website. Intended for families and children at a cost of $50, it included a jaunt through a part of the Esopus Bend Preserve only accessible by the waterfront. Paddling a kayak feels like tricking the forces of nature, parsing through water in a vessel that feels so vulnerable. I felt more secure this time, keeping up and wobbling less thanks to last year’s instruction.
Six years ago, Porter started a kayak tour out of Lynch’s Marina and was floored by the positive reception she received. Three years later, she opened a storefront on 61 South Partition St., close to both Saugerties Beach boat launch and her own home adding rental kayaks to her business model. In six years, she quadrupled her fleet from five to 20 kayaks, paddleboards and a few tandem kayaks.
On our recent paddle, Porter pointed out ospreys, an eagle and a surfacing beaver. The wideness of the river once it met the Hudson, a veritable lake of water, was inescapable. Watching her paddle, it’s apparent that balancing in a kayak is where she feels most balanced in life. As she adeptly paddle-sliced the water and I splashed and dripped all over myself (the kind term for this, she says, is “wet paddler”) that beginners are her favorite clientele.
“I love when people come that have never paddled before,” she said. “With a bit of direction and encouragement, you see them loving the water. I know when I’ve helped them find something that will be a part of their life — [sometimes] I’ll see them next year paddling their own boats.”
She told me of a tourist family from Europe that was inspired by her tour to buy their own kayaks back home. They send her pictures of their kayaking trips along local waterways; she sees many tour recipients that live in the area along the river later in their own watercraft.
The smell of low tide and the sight of wet protruding rocks followed us back to the kayak launch. In a group of only four (Porter’s favorite group size is six—with more participants, she will often call on her daughter to be an extra set of river eyes), Porter instructed us to paddle as quickly as possible, barrel quickly enough toward the launch that we beached our boats on a carpet positioned on the concrete launch. Getting customers out of watercraft at low tide is one difficulty of the trade; another, said Porter, is “having nature as a business partner.” Sometimes, crowing out over wet expanses to caution or inform her participants of a natural or historic view can leave Porter feeling hoarse. All the same, she relishes the very unique opportunity for connection made possible by traveling abreast in kayaks, where she acts as both a guide and a conversational partner.
Porter’s brick and mortar business can be visited at 61 South Partition Street weekends from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Midweek, or if her building appears empty, she can be called or texted at (845) 532-7797 and will deliver equipment in minutes. Her touring schedule is available on www.ipaddlenewyork.com.