One Square Mile: Kayaking Narragansett Bay

Oct 10, 2014

All this week we’re looking we’re looking at one of the Ocean State’s most visible resources: Narragansett Bay, with a series we call One Square Mile. There are plenty of ways for residents and tourists alike to get out onto the water: sailboats, surfboards, even jet skis.  

Rhode Island Public Radio’s John Bender went kayaking to get a feel for why people choose to pick up the paddle.

Jeff Shapiro is a medium sized guy, with broad shoulders, thanks in part to decades of kayaking.  Standing outside his shop, the Kayak Centre of Rhode Island, he points to the still waters of Wickford Cove.

“It’s a salt water pond with direct access into the open bay,” said Shapiro. “It’s a protected cove, so no matter what the conditions are, we can get people on the water safely, and they can paddle in protected conditions if it’s not such a nice day, and that kind of stuff.”

Jeff Shapiro takes off in his kayak heading toward the Wickford bridge.
Credit Catherine Welch / RIPR

He walks towards the cove and launching ramp, where dozens of kayaks sit ready to go into the water.  After zipping and clipping into a life vest, he hops into his bright red boat, and shoves off.  Shapiro quickly finds a steady rhythm.  His kayak paddle skillfully dips in and out of the water. He runs tons of kayaking classes out of the shop, most of them easier trips for beginners.  But Shapiro himself is an adrenaline junky.  He has been since he started paddling decades ago.

"I was up in New Hampshire one time, and it was a spring day and there was a whitewater race going on and I thought, that looked like my kind of thing,” said Shapiro

He’s since traveled the world kayaking on trips that range from adventurous to downright dangerous.  He recalls one excursion to Colorado, kayaking mountain streams at eleven thousand feet.

“And this was an extremely challenging, steep, winter runoff, very cold river, and I would say that was a bucket list kind of a run, that I did it once.  I don’t know whether enjoying it is the exact right word,” said Shapiro

Kayaks line the walls of Shapiro's store in Wickford.
Credit Catherine Welch / RIPR

But Shapiro chose Narragansett Bay to open his kayak shop.

“Narragansett Bay is just a spectacular piece of water.  It has many many, many miles of shoreline.  It’s got all kind of places to paddle to.”

Wickford harbor is like a tiny microcosm of Narragansett Bay itself. Fishing vessels bob up and down at their moorings.  Recreational boats are docked along the marina.  When Shapiro first started his business kayakers were a rare sight, now dozens paddle through on any summer day.  He said out in little boat in the middle of open water, there’s a sense of adventure you just can’t get on a motor or sailboat.

“One of the other nice things about kayaking is that you can get into places in a kayak that you cannot get into any other way realistically,” said Shapiro

And you get close to the water, literally.  You sit about three inches away from the surface.

“I think that people who migrate to kayaks are generally people who like that intimacy with nature.”

Kayaking, he said is a way of being on the water without disturbing the bay itself.  

“So you’re both doing life enhancing things, in a quiet totally environmentally friendly way,” said Shapiro.  “You know, we disturb nothing when we’re in a kayak.”

And that’s what Shapiro wants to do, preserve the bay while opening it up to everyone.  He’s found a way to blend a passion with business, and he’s trying to live the dream in the meantime.

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