The kayaker who takes Manhattan by boat 

New York lends itself to visions of tourist throngs crossing Times Square, subways populated with anonymous faces, and scenes of yellow cabs, infinite skyscrapers and endless restaurants animated with the unmistakable buzz of movement. Of life. But that’s New York City by land and quite frankly, nothing has changed there. New York City by water? A whole different story. 

King of the Manhattan Lap, produced by Whitewater (the brand behind the Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC), follows veteran sea kayaker, Kenny Unser, as he takes  Charlotteans Cooper Lambla and Megan Somloi, along with Tyler Allyn, Cat Boland, Megan George, and Nate Klema, on a 30 mile kayak journey around the island of Manhattan, known as a Manhattan Lap.

“There’s an intense juxtaposition between feeling isolated in a wild environment and simultaneously being surrounded by millions in one of the world’s largest cities. It feels like you’re floating in time and space, on the outside of a world looking in.”

The team ranging from world class whitewater kayakers to non-paddlers navigate three different tidal rivers with changing currents, tides, and freezing waters leftover from winter. Add in barges that lurk in the dark, aggressive water taxis creating surf waves, and whatever unknown elements New Yorkers throw into the rivers, completing a Manhattan Lap is not easy.

Luckily, Kenny’s got over 70 laps under his belt and knows that if you want the tides on your side, kayaking through the night is time to go.  

King of the Manhattan Lap

With camping lights duct taped to their kayaks, a camera, and the snack stash sadly forgotten, the team put in on the East River, a salt water tidal strait that separates Long Island including the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn from Manhattan.

King of the Manhattan Lap

Through the inky black waters of the night, Megan Somloi a paddler of two and a half years, describes of the voyage, “there’s an intense juxtaposition between feeling isolated in a wild environment and simultaneously being surrounded by millions in one of the world’s largest cities. It feels like you’re floating in time and space, on the outside of a world looking in.”

King of the Manhattan Lap

When Kenny began exploring this side of NYC he didn’t have tidal knowledge. It was a pretty punishing experience, but for some reason he never stopped. Now, he can time the lap looking only at the moon.

On perspective of the city, videographer, Tyler Allyn says “it’s something out of a sci-fi scene. You find yourself oddly isolated in one of the most densely populated places on earth.” Somloi explains the journey has shifted her perspective permanently. “It was like I was being swallowed whole by New York. It’s like facing an elephant as an ant.”

King of the Manhattan Lap

Although the team circumnavigated the island by bike the day before the lap, the vantage points of being on the outside looking in and vice versa instill the same awe inspiring moments that New York is famous for.

Maybe it’s the chase of isolation in a city that never sleeps. Or the unique characters one encounters in these idiosyncratic times of peculiar surroundings. Perhaps it’s the need to refill the transcendental tank of interest, inspiration, and purpose that drives Kenny and this niche community to seek out different perspectives on the old ways of an iconic city.

King of the Manhattan Lap

Either way, it seems only natural to return to the waters that created access to inhabit the island and grow the city that came to be New York with its unfathomable expansion of skyline, glittering lights, and life that is present everywhere you turn.

King of the Manhattan Lap is a short form film and was selected for the 2019 Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado.

King of the Manhattan Lap was produced by Whitewater in Charlotte, NC.