The Life Aquatic


What water shortage? With so many pools, fountains, beaches, lakes, and rivers where you can make a splash during the warmer months, this precious resource has never seemed more abundant. So get ready to soak it all in with our guide to some of the best water diversions the city has to offer.

The best of New York wildlife—animal, vegetable, or disheveled urban yipster—can be seen by way of a kayak or canoe. The all-volunteer L.I.C. Community Boathouse launches free weekday-evening trips into the East River estuary (it’s not really a river!) to Staten Island and City Island and even around Manhattan (a 12-hour trip), plus weekend art paddles to DUMBO and Snub Harbor Cultural Center. Sightings of hawks, eagles, porpoises, seals, herons, turtles, and gaggles of trendy gallery gazers have been reported. Each so interesting in its natural habitat. Hallets Cove, Socrates Sculpture Park beach at the end of 31st Avenue, Long Island City, Queens, MARRIAN

Forget the freak show at Coney Island; there are enough oceanic oddities to hold your attention at the New York Aquarium. Right on the shore, the complex is a maze of buildings housing sharks, piranhas, and warm-weather penguins. In the walrus tank, one horny male and three females (weighing 4,000 pounds each) put on a playfulahem—show. For a psychedelic experience, check out Alien Stingers—a dark room with phosphorescent-glowing, translucent jellies that look like they dropped in from another planet. Still, the most alluring fish in the aquarium might be battered, fried, and served with chips in the café. New York Aquarium, Surf Avenue and West 8th Street, Brooklyn, 718-265-FISH, MONROY

Beach day rained out? Can’t face a shore-bound schlep? A hotel pool is waiting for you here in town. Who knew that some hotels let non-guests use their pools for a special daily rate? Well, we did, and so did a guy we met at the Marriott Financial Center ($20/day), who’d already swum his way through a pack of 10 day passes and was back for more. No wonder: The pool is beautiful, the staff is super-gracious, and you get this plus bottled water and Gatorade plus fresh fruit plus a sauna. The Millennium U.N. Plaza ($35/day) also offers a great pool and sauna, with the added draw of city views. At Le Parker Meridien ($50/day), unlimited fitness classes are included too (pre-swim yoga, anyone?). Plus, simply put, once you see the pool and the views here, you won’t ever want to leave. Marriott FC, 85 West Street, 212-385-4900; Millennium U.N. Plaza, 44th Street between First and Second avenues, 212-758-1234; Le Parker Meridien, 118 West 57th Street, 212-245-5000 GROSSMAN

Legend has it that the Dragon Boat Races origin- ated from frantic efforts of Chinese fishermen to save a beloved poet from drowning. You’ll get more festivities and less tragedy at the 16th Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at Meadow Lake in Queens, but drama still abounds as the crews of dragon-shaped teakwood boats battle it out to furious drumbeats. Before you get too sunburned waterside, check out the entertainment—including warrior monks performing martial arts and a dumpling-eating challenge. August 12–13, Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, 718-767-1776

Hot sand. Shirtless, sweaty coeds. Spectator, spiker, dunker, or diver, volleyball is the ultimate summertime pickup game. Overlooking the river, Hudson Beach in Riverside Park has two sand courts (squint hard to get the Baywatch effect and blur out the nearby highway). When sunbaked, grab your new date and hop the B train to Prospect Lake and spend a lazy afternoon pedal boating, racing the swans and turtles. Hudson Beach, 105th and Riverside Drive; Prospect Park, Wollman Rink rental, Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue entrance, Brooklyn, 718-965-8999, MARRIAN

NYC plus summer plus fountain equals “Mmmmmm.” Yes, Bethesda’s wonderful, and the Bryant Park fountain too—but there are other lesser-known options. If you need another reason to get to the gorgeous Conservatory Gardens, here are three: Each one of the trio of gardens has its own heavenly fountain as well. In midtown, the water-wall fountain at Samuel Paley Park offers a break from the heat and the workday grind. Downtown, the City Hall Park fountain features water not only flowing down the central structure but shooting up from the four corners, well within reach—go ahead and direct it, as needed, onto yourself or a friend. Conservatory Gardens, 105th Street and Fifth Avenue; Samuel Paley, East 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue; City Hall Park, Broadway and Park Place GROSSMAN

Just across the way from the Judea Mental Health Center in Queens lies an interesting juxtaposition of nature reserve and urban megalopolis. Alley Pond‘s 635 acres of marshland are offset by the roar of trucks downshifting on surrounding freeways, and one cannot help but wonder if that’s natural pond scent or something sewagey lurking beneath. Still, there are multiple intertwined trails to lead you to Littleneck Bay. The sound of hundreds of birds chirping actually blends with the car horns like an experi- mental symphony. Several weekend evenings throughout the summer, astronomer Mark Freilich gives a seminar and telescope viewing of the night sky (seeing stars in New York City— amazing). Saturday mornings, tai chi instructor David Alexander teaches workshops. If the natural setting doesn’t help you unwind, you can always check in across the street. Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern Boulevard, Douglaston, Queens, 718-229-4000, MONROY

Bored with New York? Then take a plunge and dive Wreck Valley. Stretching from Long Island to Jersey, this graveyard of 90-plus ruins (think Prohibition rum runners and WWII submarines) will eliminate any urban ennui. Local outfitters offer various charters to this nautical nabe. The Jeanne II in Brooklyn provides trips starting at $50, and if you bring your own meat, they’ll barbecue it. Over on Staten Island, Captain Zero drives the helm of the John Jack. On this new dive boat, adventures can be had for $85. However, if you’re really daring, opt for the considerably cheaper $45 night plunge. Just make sure you’re certified—if not, sign up for the Village Divers weekend intensive class today! The Jeanne II, Pier 5, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, 718-332-9574; John Jack, 710 Todt Hill Road, Staten Island, 718-979-7731; Village Divers, 125 East 4th Street, 212-780-0879 PASCOE

Mention the words “summer school” and most of our minds grind to a halt, unable to reconcile this seemingly oxymoronic concept. The folks at Manhattan Sailing School at North Cove Marina promise to make summer school your reward, rather than your punishment. Opt for the basic sailing weekend class and you and your crew will enjoy a refreshing breeze and a different perspective on the city. Following a two-hour course in the school’s floating classroom students set sail for two days of intensive lessons on the waters around Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. Topics covered include sailing terminology, important knots, hoisting and trimming sails, and (heaven forbid) man overboard. Tuition, which is $590 for the weekend out of North Cove Marina, includes course materials, logbook, ASA certification, and an invite to Manhattan Sailing Club’s floating clubhouse for what promises to be a rather rocking graduation party. Manhattan Sailing School, North Cove Marina, Battery Park City, 212-786-0400 GAINES

Sometimes a bathing suit just cramps your style. Queen’s Jacob Riis Beach features clean sand, room to breathe, decent birdwatching, and a swimsuit-optional area. (But hey, buddy, keep those binoculars on the birds!) It also hosts the noted IronMan full court basketball tournament each summer. For added fun, Orchard Beach helps the Bronx boogie down with the Tropical Music Festival on Sunday afternoons (dancing in the audience pretty much required). And at Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, sometimes called Little Odessa, a day of sun and surf can be followed with an evening of Russian food and drink at a restaurant right on the boardwalk. (Knowing some Russian is not required, but truthfully, if you want prompt service, it will help.) Open Memorial Day through Labor Day, Jacob Riis Beach, Rockaway, Queens, 718-318-4300; Orchard Beach, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, 718-885-2275; Brighton Beach, Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-946-2917

The thought of jumping into the East River wearing nothing but a Speedo may sound as refreshing as a tetanus shot, but according to the folks at the Manhattan Island Foundation, the open waters around New York are great for swimming and the Hudson is one of the healthiest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast. The foundation organizes several public swimming events throughout the summer: Circumnavigate Governors Island on July 29, cross under the Brooklyn Bridge on September 9, or if you’re a beginner, try the half-mile Cove to Cove swim along Battery Park City on July 23. Ease into the experience through free swimming practice sessions at Coney Island and Brighton Beach, hosted by a group called CIBBOWS, which also organizes races for competitive swimmers at Coney Island and Breezy Point, and across the Narrows. Manhattan Island Foundation, 888-NYC-SWIM,; CIBBOWS, ,a href=””> MOLLOY

You don’t have to cross the Hudson or jump on the LIRR for a good nature hike.
Van Cortlandt Park
, the last stop on the No. 1 line, attracts Cana- da geese, nesting swans, and snapping turtles that build their homes along Tibbetts Brook and Van Cortlandt Lake. Park rangers can guide you along the 1.25-mile John Kieran Nature Trail any weekend. Or just follow the harmonic blend of singing birds filling the city air. Meander along the Old Putnam Trail toward the marsh, duck the poison ivy overhang along the adjoining golf course fence, and cross over a wooden bridge into a magical other-realm waiting for you up in the Bronx. Just don’t feed the duckies when you get there. “We want the animals to be animals,” Ranger Pendergrass says, “out there living their own lives.” Who knows? You might just peep one of the local coyotes living his. Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, 718-430-890, ULEN

Riding giants, they’re not. Catching air and killing a cutback, hell yeah, dude.
Surf kayaking
has come east. Depending on demand, the Man- hattan Kayak Company—which instructs in basic paddling, adventure race rescue, white-water maneuvering, and beyond—takes early-morning Sunday excursions to the east end of Jones Beach for some tube and curl action. Their short and ultra-zippy surf kayaks can pick up longer rides inaccessible to most surfers and do party tricks like window-shading, rolling sideways down the wave (yes, head under—hold your nose). Manhattan Kayak Company, Pier 63 Maritime, 23rd Street and the Hudson River, 212-924-1788, MARRIAN

On Saturday, June 3, Dance Theater Etcetera hosts its 12th annual Red Hook Waterfront Festival—all day, free. With the nonstop mix of modern dance, hip-hop improv, Latin-African percussion, and kids popping and locking all over the place, it is a chance to see Brooklyn get live. Beard Street Pier, where Van Brunt Street runs into the water, 718-287-2224 MARTIN