Acting is a calling for many people. They enjoy the emotions that they are able to invoke on the stage or screen while entertaining people. Actor Jens Rasmussen brings that same calling and passion to boating.
Rasmussen, who has played over 200 roles in his acting career on the stage and in film, helped start the North Brooklyn Boat Club (NBBC) in 2010. “I have always loved the water,” he says. “Growing up, I spent countless days swimming at my local YMCA. Then as a teen, I was introduced to windsurfing, which absolutely blew my mind. After that, I started crewing competitively for scow captains in inland lakes regattas.”
It wasn’t until he moved to New York from Milwaukee, however,that Rasmussen began to feel the entirety of the boating bug. “I was still interested in boating when I moved to NYC in 1996,” he recalls. “I first sought out and volunteered with Floating the Apple, which builds and uses Whitehall gigs. Unfortunately, I only learned of the East River Kayak Club, in my own neighborhood of Greenpoint, as they were winding down their operations in the late 90s.”
That left him unable to scratch his boating itch for a while, until something caught his eye. “A few years ago, when I learned of the Greenpoint Boathouse proposal that was being submitted to the DEC’s Newtown Creek Environmental Benefit Projects for Environmental Benefit Project funds,I naturally wanted to help make that a reality,” he explains.“I emailed Dewey Thompson (a Greenpoint filmmaker and NBBC harbormaster), who was the driving force behind the proposal and started getting involved from there.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, as a potential site for their boathouse fell through. “We had originally proposed and planned to be moving into the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, a Civil War-era rope factory,” says Rasmussen, “but we were not able to procure a lease agreement that would have been sustainable, or honored the significant amount of community funds that our project would have brought to the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center’s infrastructure.”
The set back spurred the actor and his club members to look for other options. This led them to Tony Argento, the owner of Broadway Stages,a film and production company.He’d given the club a 20-foot-wide strip of land for use as an interim site while the club found a permanent location. They were initially hesitant to ask for help in securing a permanent location, thinking that they would be pushing the bounds of his generosity since he had been letting them use the site for free. “He didn’t even hesitate,” Rasmussen says. “He immediately started putting things in motion, and this is before he knew we would be bringing the EBP funds to the table.”
NBBC is still developing architectural plans for the site, but hopes to be fully moved into the permanent site, which is near the Pulaski Bridge, in two years.The club has about 250 members, each paying $40.00 yearly. NBBC has two main types of activities, canoeing and kayaking, though there are opportunities for other pursuits such as paddle carving, boat restoration, rowing, survival skills, and open-fire cooking. Rasmussen says that there’s generally some boating by members all year round, though only the most advanced paddlers go out when there’s cold weather. “We have fewer activities in the winter, but we never stop. Anytime you see folks at the yard, feel free to stop in and visit,” he says.
Besides dropping by, new members are encouraged to get involved via social media, the club’s website (www.northbrooklynboatclub.org), exposure in media outlets, and at an annual public meeting. At the NBBC meeting this past November, Rasmussen didn’t pitch the club as being a club. “I said that I don’t view us as a boat club; we’re story tellers. We go out on the water and write stories with our paddles, collect them in our boats, bring them back to land, and share them,” he elaborates. “These are stories about the adrenaline rush of strong currents and healthy bodies, stories about city infrastructure and our water quality, and stories about the surprising return of wildlife to the New York City estuary.”
Rasmussen feels very strongly about the club’s role within the boating world. “As stewards of these waterways, it’s our duty and pleasure to share these stories with people who have not yet had the chance to experience the NYC archipelago up close,” the actor articulates.
That’s no act.
Original piece by Michael Griffin for Boating Time Long Island