Anyone who’s seen Seinfeld remembers the episode when Kramer swims in the East River. “I saw a couple other guys out there,” he tells Jerry. “They weren’t moving much, but they were out there.” (Yes, you should definitely watch this clip if you want a good laugh. The special effects alone are hilarious.)
Murky, dirty, mysterious and not-to-be-entered-voluntarily. That's how most would describe New York's waterways. However, several thousand people still swim in the Hudson and its neighboring rivers each summer.
Even yours truly was crazy enough to plunge in during two of the city's annual triathlons. The most common question I get about the race: “What is it like to swim in the Hudson River?”
In short? It's like swimming in a gigantic puddle. Yes, it's that dirty, but it's also not that dirty.
More important than the water quality is the quality of the feeling you get when swimming in one of the world’s most infamous rivers. It's a feeling that makes the relative nastiness worth it.
For me, this feeling was a beautiful melding of exhilaration and calm. At one moment, I was almost meditative. I became lost in thought about the island's original inhabitants swimming in the river hundreds of years ago. How beautiful it must have been then! In the next moment, I was looking up at Manhattan’s skyline feeling simultaneously majestic and miniscule.
Then there is the very swift current. The river’s rush promises an adrenaline rush totally worth the yuck factor.
Finally, it is just pure and utter fun to be in a river most people only ever walk past or gaze across longingly (we feel you, Jersey). You are suddenly part of the ecology of the island itself — a rare and precious feeling in a concrete jungle. If you’ve ever had an inkling of interest in venturing into New York murky waters, I wholeheartedly recommend it. There is something deeply satisfying about the primal-ness of entering the waters that surround mighty Manhattan. You end up feeling pretty mighty yourself.
According to my research, swimming in the Hudson River is only allowed as part of sanctioned events. You can learn more about these events at NYC Swim.