My first Cleveland kayaking experience that I can remember was years ago just a few miles away on Rocky River, but this time, I was a tourist.

My first kayaking experience was with Andy at 41 North Kayak Adventures. After every stroke of the paddle, my paddle spilled water over me leaving my cotton clothes drenched. It was ok because the water dripping made the Cleveland summer a little more tolerable. I couldn’t believe how soaked kayaking made me. After getting out of our kayaks to return them, I look over at Andy and he is bone dry. I had a lot to learn.

Since my last Cleveland kayaking trip, I’ve kayaked in New Zealand, Chile, and various parts of the PNW–this summer might be the most I’ve kayaked in one season. I knew I wanted to do something outdoors since it was my birthday, and I normally do a friend backpacking weekend trip to celebrate. Work travel had me away from home, but I was traveling to a city I lived in for five years. I had many friends wanting to help celebrate with me. I’m a lucky girl.

It was the day after Labor Day, and the forecast called for 90-degree weather with humidity that was just as high. You know, the type of heat that makes a continuous layer of sweat glistening in the sun. I met up with my friend, Kevin, from graduate school and his girlfriend, Lisa. We were joined by two of Lisa’s friends. Kevin and I would paddle in his kayaks, and the other three would be on stand up paddleboards. The rest had a full workday under their belts and were excited to be outside. Me, I was elated to be exploring Cleveland the way my outdoor soul craves.

Paddling Cleveland

Bridges galore.

The goal: Paddle from Merwin’s Wharf out to Lake Erie. We stabilized the wobbling kayaks from the dock and slid into the cockpit without flipping, From the start, we paddled under the Detroit Superior Bridge, along with a few overpasses with rush hour traffic hustling above. We rounded the bend and were greeted with sights of Settler’s Landing Park.

SUP Cleveland

Approaching Settler’s Landing Park.

We paddled past the opening party of the conference being held at the Flats at East Bank, which is new-to-me. I was impressed. I’ve been away for four years, and I must say I either didn’t spend much time downtown, had tourist fever, or the city has worked hard on cleaning up the city to promote tourism. My guess: It’s a little of all three.

Cleveland Flats

Flats at East Bank.

The wind was calm and so was Lake Erie. It was group decision time, should we turn around at the Flats, head to a lighthouse, or paddle further out of the lake away from the breakerwaters, or barriers to protect the coast from crashing waves? Boats of all sizes putzed along until getting out to the open water.

First stop, the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse. Deciding not to hop out of the kayak, I paddled to stay in a pool protected by breakerwaters as some of the others jumped in for a swim. After chatting and having a beer on the water, we paddled around the lighthouse and decided to travel the length of the breakwater to make a loop back to the Cuyahoga River.

Jet skis whizzed by as we passed Whiskey Island, a place where intramural volleyball leagues play sand volleyball right off the lake. Boats can dock to watch volleyball or stop at Whiskey Island Still and Eatery, formerly known as Sunset Grill, on long summer nights. I spent many years diving in the sand after spiked volleyballs and would sometimes see groups of kayakers playing in the refreshing water outside the netted area–now it was my turn to play in the water.

Paddling the Cuyahoga River

Enjoying the last few moments of daylight.

As it turns out, you can get motion sick on paddle boards. My friend was finding it hard to stand up while paddling because she was getting nauseous. It slowed our pace down a bit as she moved her center of gravity down closer to the board. I didn’t mind going slower as I could get my camera out to take more pictures as the vibrant orange reflected off the windows of the skyscrapers on the river banks.

Paddling Cleveland

Dodging bridges.

With as many bridges are on the route, you have to watch your head. It reminded me of being on the moving staircases in Hogwarts. There are bridges that lower, swing, and raise, which can bring out the engineering nerd in all of us.

Cleveland's Center Street Bridge

Cleveland’s Center Street Bridge

It was a pleasant day with friends new and old on the water. It’s refreshing to know that in every city, there are humans that crave the outdoors and will find ways to access what they can for a break from the hustle and bustle of desk jobs and cell phones.

Where should you rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards in Cleveland?

Cleveland Metroparks is a great place to start. If you’re in the Rocky River area, consider renting from 41 North Kayak Adventures. Are you downtown? Rent from Great Lakes Watersports. You’ll find kayaks, boats, and jet ski rentals here. All are open seasonally, so make sure they are open for the season before swinging by.

For a complete list on things to do in Cleveland, check out Destination Cleveland’s website.

Trip date: September 6, 2016.

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