Kayak and Canoe
Sebago Canoe Club
SCC has direct access to Jamaica Bay, which naturally attracts kayakers, sailors, rowers, flat-water racers and, of course, canoers. A membership grants you use of the clubhouse and boats, admission to instructional programs and access to a dedicated 12-person rental cabin in Harriman State Park (with a $5 usage fee per person). But if you don't feel like making a commitment, there are still plenty of programs available to the public. Try one of the regularly scheduled kayak open paddles (Wed 5:30pm, Sat 9am). 1400 Paerdegat Ave North at Paerdegat Basin, Canarsie, Brooklyn (718-241-3683, sebagocanoeclub.org). Annual individual memberships start at $175.
New York City Downtown Boathouse
The free public kayaking program is also a local favorite, so you'll always have plenty of company when you take one of the NYCDB's vessels out for a free 20-minute spin at any of the three locations. Or get more familiar with basic techniques during a two-hour informational session (Wed 6pm, Pier 96), which covers safety tips on land and then goes right into on-the-water instruction. Pier 40 at W Houston St, Pier 96 at 56th St, 72nd St at W Henry Hudson Pkwy (downtownboathouse.org)
The Manhattan Kayak Company
The MKC offers about 30 regular tours covering 150-plus nautical miles of New York Harbor, and caters to a wide range of interests and skill levels. One of the more popular short excursions, the Sunset Tour (Wed--Sat 6pm; $65), is a 90-minute trek along the Hudson River. Pier 66 Twelfth Ave at 26th St (212-924-1788, manhattankayak.com). Single classes $30--$225.
Socrates Sculpture Park
As part of its ongoing commitment to fitness, this sculpture-dotted park has joined forces with the Long Island Community Boathouse (licboathouse.org), which leads gratis weekend jaunts across Hallets Cove. Kayaks are loaned out on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to arrive early. 3201 Vernon Blvd at 31st St, Long Island City, Queens (718-956-1819, socratessculpturepark.org). Sat, Sun 1--5pm through Oct 9; free.
New York Kayak Company
The city's oldest kayak business offers, in addition to regular tours around landmarks like Governors Island and Hoboken Beach, regular Fundamentals 1 instruction (Tue 6pm, $100; Sat, Sun 9:30am, $150), during which beginning boaters can learn the basics of sea kayaking, including how to maneuver—and what to do if you capsize. Pier 40 between W Houston and West Sts (212-924-1327, nykayak.com).
Red Hook Boaters
The do-gooders at RHB care as much about getting you out on the local waterways as they do about keeping the H20 clean. Twice a week, walk-up kayaking sessions take place in a protected Brooklyn cove, during which participants can enjoy sweeping views of the harbor and spot wildlife in the estuary. They'll give you a boat and a pair of paddles at no charge, so when it's time to pitch in with the shoreline clean-up, don't be a douche—volunteer to help. Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park between Coffey and Ferris Sts, Red Hook, Brooklyn (917-676-6458, redhookboaters.org). Sun 1--5pm, Thu 6--8pm; free for clean-up volunteers.
Long Beach, Long Island
You'll be in the company of some advanced athletes on the shores of Long Beach; the idyllic locale is hosting the Quiksilver Pro New York Surfing event (Sept 2--15, exact days TBD, quiksilverpro.com). But try to be inspired instead of intimidated: "At the lower tide, the waves are consistent [enough] for beginners," says surf instructor Cliff Skudin (516-318-3993, skudinsurf.com), who teaches hour-long lessons and weeklong intensive classes ($90--$375). Boards can be rented on site (one hour $20, half-day $30, full day $40). LIRR round-trip fare from Penn Station $16.50--$23, beach admission $12 (longbeachny.org)
Rockaway Beach, Queens
Rock jetties are the secret to Rockaway Beach's year-round swells, according to NY Surf School founder Frank Cullen (718-496-3371, surflessonsnewyork101.com). "[The jetties] give us great sand bars, which makes for nice shaped waves." Let Cullen and company show you how it's done; NYSS offers a range of lessons, from one-hour group sessions to weeklong camps ($55--$379). The beach has two surfing-designated areas, 67th to 69th Street (which is best for beginners) and 88th to 92nd Streets (for advanced surfers). Boardwalk between Beach 9th and Beach 117th Sts, Rockaway Beach, Queens (718-318-4000)
Fire Island, Long Island
Those willing to make the trek out to Fire Island will be rewarded with some mellow surf and solitude, particularly in Robert Moses State Park, Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park. If you really want the place to yourself, local surf/tour guide Glenn Kleinhans recommends hitting the waves "early [in the] morning, when the winds are usually light and nobody is on the beach." Kleinhans can help to customize a trip for you; he'll set up your gear rental and arrange a tour and surf lessons ($75 and up; 631-495-9348, surffireisland.com). LIRR Beach Getaway package to Robert Moses State Park (includes rail and bus fare) $20.50. Or take a ferry from various LIRR stations, $12--$17 plus rail fare (nps.gov/fiis).