The Kayak and Canoe Club of New York was officially founded in Jan., 1959 in the Ed and Miriam Alexander’s Newark New Jersey basement from a group of Foldboat kayak paddlers that had been loosely organized under by Jack Kissner, designer and owner of “Foldboat”. Jack led trips every weekend in the spring until the late 1950’s when he moved his operation to Charleston, SC. It was convenient to go with Jack because if you broke a part of your boat, he would bring whatever needed replacement the following week-end. When Kisser moved, the group broke up, one persistent member, Jack Goldstein, attempted to establish a new group, and thus KCCNY was born.
With names Ed Alexander received from AWWA (Affilation of White Water Associations, a club of clubs) and some of the old group a meeting consisting of 20 people under the leadership of Peter Whitney, met in the basement of Ed and Miriam Alexander in Newark, NJ, early 1959 and thus KCCNY was born.
With Kayak the first word in its name and unlike other clubs at the time, KCCNY “was comprised of both open canoeists in Grummans and double (tandem) foldboaters. With importers of European
foldboats in the New York City area, a variety of foldboats were available to club members including Klepper, Pioneer, Sioux-Hart, and Cheaveaux. The emphasis on kayaking was certainly integral to its membership since the word kayak was in the club’s name and KCCNY was essentially the first club in the East to emphasize kayaking as much as canoeing.” (River Chasers: page 67).
They started with these 20 people and acquired additional people as the weeks went by. They lost one member who “did not like prolonged exposure to cold water”. Everyone participated in running the club and it was expected that no weddings, family obligations (including funerals) be scheduled from early March until mid June. Everyone was to be on the river, the only excuse was if you had broken your leg skiing and you were in a walking cast. You were then expected to shuttle and care for all the children so that both parents could run the river together. Ed and Miriam soon realized that if our marriage was to survive, they each had to have our own boat.
They started out with single Foldboats, but soon converted to fiberglass boats. In the early years, Ed Alexander assisted with membership, helped draft our constitution, became president, for many years was editor of the KCCNY newsletter, actively assisted with the organization and timing at the Esopus Race and organized the Annual meeting for many years when the attendance was around 80.
Everyone took turns as trip leaders. In those days, except for March, trips lasted 2 days. The trip leader, in addition to his/her duties on the river had to make arrangements for camping. As the group grew and some became more proficient than others, expert and intermediate trips were born. They did meet at night and camped together.
Ed Alexander began his kayak career in Hamburg, Germany where as a young boy he and his friends ran sections of the Elbe, went through it’s numerous locks, toured the Hamburg inner harbor and cruised on several lakes. They did this in Klepper Double fold boats. Ed left Germany after Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) in November 1938 with a teen age group, living in England for several years. Miriam met the boat shortly after they were married in 1951. They were living in Newark at the time when Ed met a neighbor, Willie Carr, carrying his “Foldboat” to the car for a spring trip. The following week-end, they joined Willie and his wife Evelyn on a trip led by Jack Kissner, designer and owner of “Foldboat”, on the Delaware from the Lackawaxen to Port Jervis. Ed had only paddled in flat water; Miriam had never been in or on a small craft. They soon bought some essential camping gear and a new double Foldboat from Jack Kissner. Jack led these trips every weekend in the spring until the late 1950’s when he moved his operation to Charleston, SC. It was convenient to go with him because if you broke a part of your boat, he would bring whatever needed replacement the following week-end. In addition to the Delaware, we ran the Housatonic, Shepaug, Lackawaxen and others. The experts also attempted the Esopus. Many a Foldboat left it’s remains on that river. A very active couple in the group, Lee and Gerry Mandleman were killed in a car crash in 1952. They had been very good friends with Jack and Marianne Goldstein, thus the Goldsteins inherited their boating gear. When Kisser moved, the group broke up, one persistent member, Jack Goldstein, attempted to establish a new group, and thus KCCNY was born.
Ed led many trips. One Delaware trip comes to mind where we had 27 boats and over 50 people camping. One woman complained to Ed that her male escort was not making enough advances toward her so she asked Ed to speak to him. He complied and the couple later married.
“The early history was very full of friends wanting to be together, friends bringing in additional members who then became wonderful friends; there was so much camaraderie – every weekend there was something happening somewhere. I don’t quite know how a family member ever got the storm windows installed or the garbage put out on the curb (much less hold down a full-time job) with all the paddling that was taking place. The weekend paddling schedule was very active – and that was the thing – a very active way to “de-toxify” and to wind down from a very hectic job. Even though I lived close to many of the rivers and could go home to sleep, I chose to camp out with the club members many times, just to be together, and not miss anything. This was a very close group. “(As recollected by Helen Chase)
In the 60s racing was driving whitewater development with Europe several steps ahead of the US. A few American’s travelled to Europe and were soundly beaten.
In 1964, Milo Duffek planned a visit to the United States, top whitewater racer and inventor of the Duffek stroke. “Milo and his wife Irmgard, also a kayaker of renown, provided instruction during a tour of seven AWA affiliates ….Their visit also included recreational paddling (cruising) with their hosts as they traveled the country. KCCNY sponsored a week of instruction on the Rapid River in Maine with twenty participants.” (River Chasers: page 79).
The Jack Goldstein Award was created to honor the memory of Jack Goldstein, who was an organizer, founder and past chairman of KCCNY. Jack was a devoted paddler, camper and conservationist, whose inspirational leadership and excellence of character contributed greatly to the interest in white water boating everywhere. Above all he was a distinguished humanitarian who loved life and his fellow man.
I’d love to add more to our history. Those with recollections or actual recorded history please contact us.
- Miriam Alexander’s recollections, KCCNY December 1998 Newsletter, http://kccny.com/Data/Newsletters/199812.pdf.
- The River Chasers. A History of American Whitewater Paddling by Susan L. Taft. Flowing Water Press and Alpen Books Press. 2001.
- Helen Chase, early member, in emails to Tom Hart, 2022.