Water Work

Keeping fit, with a paddle

kayak_cb-1Photo: Cara Brostrom


By Susan Jackson


t’s Friday afternoon. You’ve just had a grueling week at work. When it’s quitting time you pack your things; it’s time for a river trip. You get to the water, get geared up, and hop into a kayak. For an hour or so, you paddle past charming scenery, sometimes pausing to enjoy the water lapping quietly against your boat. After a good mix of exercise and just floating around, you turn back. When you round a certain corner, a flurry of activity begins onshore. By the time you’re back at the dock, a barbecue feast awaits you. You’re encouraged to dig in and stay as long as you like, and as long as you can stand any stray mosquitoes that may dart around the strategically placed bug lamps.

Sounds like a nice evening spent somewhere three hours north of Boston, right? How about three minutes outside of Boston?

Each Friday in the summer (as long as enough people sign up), Charles River Canoe & Kayak hosts barbecue kayak tours from its Allston/Brighton and Kendall Square locations. With food provided by Redbones Barbecue in Somerville, and the views and exercise made possible by the Charles River, it’s a fit and fun way to kickoff the weekend. “It’s definitely a great way to wind down after work,” says supervisor Scott Horrigan, a supervisor at the Allston/Brighton dock.

The weekly excursion begins with guides giving beginners a 20- to 30-minute onshore paddling demo. When everyone is ready to take to the water, instructors divvy up the group, usually keeping an instructor-to-kayaker ratio of about 1:6.

Groups can also be divided up according to speed so “people who are really fit and want to go trekking can trek,” says Jim Congo, another supervisor. But if you just want to meander a bit, that’s fine too. The group agrees on a turnaround time instead of a turnaround point to make sure everyone makes it back to shore for chow.

Unfortunately for me, I showed up at the Allston/Brighton outpost little too early on Friday for the grub. My solo excursion happened closer to lunch, and the food I ate was my own (peanut butter and jelly). After filling out some paperwork, (including a multiple-choice safety test—don’t worry, you’ll pass!), donning a life jacket, and grabbing a paddle, I got set up with a boat by a friendly staff member, who showed me how to safely get in and out of it.

Heading right on the river from the dock brought me under the picturesque, red-brick Eliot Bridge and east, where if I continued paddling long enough, I would have reached the Museum of Science and Charles River locks after about six miles. Heading west from the dock takes you three miles past quieter scenery, and as far as the Watertown dam.

At barbecue-dinner time, lunch, or otherwise, it’s beautiful out on the river, and though at points you can really appreciate just how dirty the water is, it’s still a peaceful place and its character is an indisputable part of Boston’s charm.

“Part of what we are trying to achieve here is to make the river as accessible as possible,” says Congo, who believes that more than just college crew teams should be able to enjoy the Charles from such a close vantage point. “The more people appreciate the river, the better it will be taken care of over time,” he says.

At least one group of people—Charles River Canoe & Kayak season-pass holders—already regularly express this appreciation. “Even if there’s only 15 minutes left in the day, we’ll get people who just come to go around the bridge and back to burn off steam,” says Horrigan.

Charles River Canoe & Kayak has four locations and is open roughly from Memorial Day until Labor Day. It offers activities from stand-up paddleboard lessons to kids’ programs, to specials for viewing the July 4th fireworks front-row from the river, plus barbecue kayak tours for groups.