Watersports on Martha’s Vineyard



For the fit and ambitious, Ms. Dowd, an internationally competitive kayaker, offers sea tours, sunrise and sunset tours, even a paddle to Cuttyhunk and an overnight hotel stay, with clambake, for $375.

“It’s only an Island if you see it from the water,” is the motto at Island Spirit Kayaks in Oak Bluffs. Yet most visitors and, sadly, many residents, rarely get to experience that offshore view.

Access to the water and watercraft may have been problematic in the past, but not today. With the growing popularity of water exercise, private and public enterprises are open across the Island for swimming, sailing, kayaking, windsailing, even kite flying experiences.

Water sport professionals see the ocean as a watery gym providing users intense, full-body resistance training in open water or a gentle paddle with grandma and the kids on the Island, which hosts 13 streams, 42 lakes, approximately 125 miles of coastline, and an astounding 8,777 acres of estuaries.

Recreational watercraft for rent have been a longstanding Island resource, but over the past decade a cadre of trained water athletes have entered the business, offering lessons on how to use watercraft, technical tips to maximize workouts, and where to go to get the experience their customers want.

Chick Dowd is beginning her eleventh season as proprietor of Island Spirit Kayak in Oak Bluffs (508-693-9727). “A three-hour kayak rental for $35 allows you to do intense fitness training with friends, or a gentle paddle, birding with your grandmother on Sengekontacket Pond,” she says.

Tandem (two-person) kayaks rent for $55, and all customers get a training session and a verbal tour of where to use the kayak. For the fit and ambitious, Ms. Dowd, an internationally competitive kayaker, offers sea tours, sunrise and sunset tours, even a paddle to Cuttyhunk and an overnight hotel stay with clambake for $375.

“We take a charter boat back in the morning. You’re pretty beat by then.” Island Spirit’s business has grown, “From a couple of kayaks in the back of my truck,” to a home base at Little Bridge. “Big news: we bought the hot dog stand. Look for a new menu, some cool new juice drinks and limbo contests,” she promises.

“Kayaking is really a full-body workout. Actually you use your feet a lot. It’s got nothing to do with back but it can be a torso and abs of steel workout. On the other hand, I took my 93-year old grandmother out on the pond last summer,” she says.

At Wind’s Up in Vineyard Haven (508-693-4252), veteran water sport enthusiast Matt McCurdy confirms that the muscle groups most exercised are different form what neophytes might expect.

“Kayaking and windsurfing provide the most exercise. The back is not so much involved; the core gets worked, depending on how hard you work,” he says. “We’ve had eight year olds to eighty-year-olds. Windsurfing doesn’t require a lot of strength. You use your body weight against the sails. It’s a nice workout for legs and calves. If you haven’t done it, you may have sore muscles you didn’t know you had,” he says.

Wind’s Up matches boats to skill levels. Kayak rentals start at $16 an hour; windsurfers start at $20 an hour; Sailboats start at $35 an hour. Mr. McCurdy believes that lessons heighten the experience. He recommends a $110 windsurfing package with two lessons and three hours of practice. A private sailing lesson package is $320, including five lessons. And a semi-private (three people) five lesson sailing package is $400.

For the hardy, perhaps the most extreme water sport pastime is provided by the rowing club at Sail Martha’s Vineyard (508-696-7644). A group of members 50 strong, known as the Vineyard Voyagers, settle into a six-seat (plus coxswain) Cornish gig every morning at 6:30, summer and winter, weather permitting. Hope Callen, administrative director, explains that a $100 membership fee covers everything.

The club is best known for sailing but is expanding its rowing service for adults and youth and is currently taking applications from high school students for a rowing team.

“We’ve hired a coach, Will Schrade, and we expect 10 to 12 teenagers to begin,” Ms. Callen says. “It’s a way to give Island kids something else to do. Rowing is aerobic and provides strength training…and it’s a good way to get out of bed in the morning,” she says.

The Island also offers a professional swimming coach who has developed a spiritually-based, mind-body approach to water sports. Bob MacLean (508-560-1300) is a 20-year veteran of ocean swimming. He combines goal-setting, working with water phobias, and the technical side of ocean swimming for individual clients.

Other organizations, such as The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) and Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, offer residents and visitors an opportunity to see the Island from the water. TTOR’s kayak tours and rentals on the far-flung shores of Chappaquiddick are examples.

Jack Shea is a frequent contributor to The Times.