History of NYO
New York Outrigger was founded with the mission to educate and encourage residents to explore the waters surrounding New York City. With an island at the city’s center, New York has geographical parallels to the outrigger cultures of the South Pacific. Recognizing these similarities, the founders of NYO wished to provide an opportunity to experience NYC from an exciting new perspective.
Our local waterways have played an important historic role in the life of the city. For centuries they were our lifeline to the rest of the world and helped establish New Amsterdam’s position as a leading port of call in the Americas. From the 17th Century until the early 20th Century, the first experience of all newcomers to Manhattan was from the water. The waterways were truly an extension of the city and the catalyst for its growth.
As the industrial revolution took hold in the New World, the rivers that had served for centuries as arteries of commerce began to be seen as impediments to transport and living space. Lower Manhattan was overcrowded, and densely packed tenements pushed up to the banks in many neighborhoods. The rivers and bays, while still important for shipping, became something to bridge over, tunnel under, or fill in. At the end of the 19th Century, projects like the Brooklyn Bridge and the subway tunnels of the IRT and BMT were connecting the outer boroughs to the city center. The waterways quickly became something to be avoided and started down a path of neglect that lasted for most of the next century.
While the waterfront areas were some of the first to deteriorate, the economic downturn of the 1970s and 1980s caused many New York City neighborhoods to fall victim to urban blight. It was not until the late 1980s – and the introduction of new projects driven by a combination of public trusts, neighborhood improvement projects and private developers – that the city began to experience a rebirth. Projects like the construction of Battery Park City in lower Manhattan and the redevelopment of DUMBO in Brooklyn brought New Yorkers back to a revitalized waterfront. With growing waterfront communities came an increased recognition of voices like Pete Seeger’s Clearwater initiative and other nonprofits who for decades had worked to improve water quality. In this drive to revitalize the New York City waterfront, plans to develop new green spaces along the city’s shores were announced.
The most ambitious of these projects was the Hudson River Park, which spans from The Battery in lower Manhattan to 59th Street in Midtown, making it the largest park project in the city since Frederick Olmsted’s development of Central Park in the 1860s. At the same time new organizations were appearing on the shores and activists, like John Krevey, were looking for ways to engage the city’s arts and social scene to create awareness about the waterfront. It was at this time that New York Outrigger was founded with a mission to educate New Yorkers about outrigger paddling and provide access to the city’s waterways.
As one of the first organizations to provide recreational opportunities along the New York City waterfront, NYO has a proud tradition as a community trailblazer. Driven solely by volunteer members who have a shared love the water and their community, NYO has grown dramatically and has touched the lives of thousands of New Yorkers through our outreach programs. Reaching beyond the city, NYO has brought international attention to New York Harbor through The Liberty Challenge, considered one of the most prestigious outrigger regattas in the world.
New York Outrigger: Beginnings of the Waterfront Community
by Roger Meyer, Founder & President (1996 to 2004)
New York Outrigger: Growth and Outreach
by Ed Acker, President (2006 to 2011)