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‘Meet the Bronx River,’ oarsmen say

A family is shown the rowing ropes at a recent Community Rowing Saturday at Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Rocking the Boat introduces residents to their next door neighbor

A family is shown the rowing ropes at a recent Community Rowing Saturday at Hunts Point Riverside Park.

By Felix Quinonez Jr.

Eight-year-old Ruben Ruden could hardly stand still as he told his family about his adventure on the Bronx River. His arms straightened from his chest, then bent back in a rowing motion. “I liked that they taught us how to row,” he said. Then he rubbed his arms and added, “At first it was tough, but then you get used to it.”

Ruben had just climbed out of one of the rowboats used by Rocking the Boat in its community rowing program. He is among the hundreds of people being introduced to the Bronx River by Rocking the Boat’s three-year-old community rowing program, which offers free rides in Hunts Point Riverside Park every Saturday from April to the end of September.

Founded by Adam Green in 1996, Rocking the Boat teaches youngsters how to build traditional wooden boats and to use them for on-water education, in programs that operate during the fall and spring school semesters and over the summer. The organization, whose base is next door to Hunts Point Riverside Park, serves some 2,000 students from New York City public schools, most of them in the South Bronx.

Community Rowing is the only program it offers that is open to the general public. When it began in 2007, the program’s goals were modest: “to get people out on the water,” said Addy Guance an on-water educator.

“Not a lot of people in this particular area know that they even have access to water,” added Guance, who has been with Rocking the Boat since 1999.

In its first year, the program was confined to five Saturdays. It grew “because of the tremendous response,” said Green. Last year more than 1,000 people participated, he said.

Cristina Delgado, an 18-year-old Longwood resident, was one of the people who took advantage of the program on a recent Saturday. “It’s really beautiful out on the water,” she said. “Sometimes you overlook it, but going out on the boat helps remind you of how nice the Bronx really is.”

Word of the community rowing program has spread by word of mouth. Delgado’s aunt, Patricia Alvarez, introduced her to the program after hearing about it from a friend.

Alvarez sees the program as a way to “get kids away from their video games.” She added, “It’s really great to see these kids come out here and doing some healthy activities with their families. I think it helps build a greater sense of community amongst the residents.”

Hunts Point Resident Elijah Canda, 12, learned of the program through a friend’s mom. He called the experience “very beneficial,” and added, “Before coming here, I didn’t even know that there was a place in the Bronx that we could go rowing.”

The boat rides last from 20 minutes to an hour, said Green, and are “chaperoned by former students.” The 26 wooden boats, which range in length from 14 to 20 feet, were all handmade by high school students in Rocking the Boat’s main program, he said.

Rocking the Boat also offers multi-day training to certify people to be able to take boats out on their own. The Boat Captain Certification Program includes CPR and first aid training. For committed landsmen, Community Rowing also offers, “land activities, such as environmental education,” said Green.

The community rowing program seems to be as rewarding for the staff as it is for members of the public. Carlos Duran, one of the instructors, said he loves “seeing the people coming out here and enjoying the water.”

He loves “seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” he continued. His work “brings meaning to my life, because I feel like I’m doing something good and promoting a healthy sport,” he said.

Although some people might be hesitant about going into the Bronx River, Duran wanted people to know that, “it’s not as dirty a people think it is,” and added, “We’ve been cleaning it up and doing a lot of restoration projects.”

“It’s a great opportunity. I want to share it with everyone,” Duran said. “Nobody comes out of here thinking that they would never do it again. They always leave thinking, I want to come back.”

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