It's Sink or (Hopefully) Win in Annual Cardboard Kayak Race at Seaport

Blue School crew paddles to third place in the Cardboard Kayak Race beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jul. 16, 2019

Only on rare occasions does the city open up Brooklyn Bridge Beach at the South Street Seaport, and Saturday was one of those days as paddlers pushed off into the East River aboard cardboard kayaks made seaworthy with lots of tape, and loads of hope.

It was the annual Con Edison Cardboard Kayak Race, part of the 12th annual City of Water Day. Fifteen teams, from kids to seasoned engineers and architects, were allotted two hours in Peck Slip Park to build their boats only from the materials they were given, including 10 sheets of corrugated cardboard, 10 rolls of waterproof packing tape, and three rolls of gaffer tape.  

Photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Even before the boats got wet (or in some cases waterlogged beyond recognition) judges looked for winners in such categories as “classic design,” “innovative design” and—in the case of a Howard Hughes Corp. team’s piñata-decorated winner—“most personality.”

After several qualifying heats and the final race, all requiring the two-person crews to round one of several buoys, Jonathan Boulware, president of the South Street Seaport Museum gave out awards. Among them, a dubious honor to the Stuyvesant High School team for “fastest sinker” —16 seconds.

Finally came the announcement of the top three finishers. “This is the real race,” Boulware called out through a megaphone. “This is where the rubber meets the river.” The engineering firm of NV5 and the Blue School took second and third place respectively. And the winning prize, for the second year in a row, went to HNTB, also an engineering company, whose kayak was crewed by Richard May and Jimmy Wang.

With the festivities ended, May loaded his firm's corrugated craft onto the back of a pickup truck parked on Frankfort Street. “We’ll display it at the office for a week,” he said.

And after that?

“The garbage.”

The annual City of Water Day, which includes many activities meant to bring attention to waterfront recreation and the goal of coastal resiliency, is organized by the Waterfront Alliance in partnership with, among other organizations, the South Street Seaport Museum. This was the second year that the Seaport played host to City of Water Day events, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Corp.