Member Profile: Luis López


Luis López has been a member for more than two years. He is a teacher, translator, and carpenter, and a keen paddler. He recently translated key information for the ICC website into Spanish.

ICC: You have a distinct accent, where are you from?
LL: I always answer that question with, “When?” I’m from Spain, but I have an English accent because I also grew up in England. I’ve been here for 20 years so there’s a little New York in there. I’m sort of a chameleon, depending on who I’m talking with; in linguistics the term “code-switching” would apply. When you’re hanging out with kayakers, we also have a language that other people don’t understand. We see that all the time at Open House, when we say, “Where’s your PFD?” and the guest just stares at you, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, life vest.”

ICC: What do you do?
LL: For many years I worked in public schools advocating for access to a better education for everybody. The people on the bottom of the pyramid are going to be the immigrant families, and on top of that there’s a social barrier and a language component. I’m still involved with a lot of issues as a translator and interpreter (in English and Spanish), advocating and organizing around labor issues, education, and immigration through Caracol Interpreters Cooperative.

ICC: Is there a language/cultural barrier for our neighbors when it comes to kayaking?
LL: Sometimes there’s a barrier for people who grew up in the city next to the Hudson. It’s part of local culture but they mostly think of it as “the Hudson” and it’s dirty or dangerous. It seems easier for transplants to think of it as “a river” that you can get out onto and use for recreation.

: What do you like most about the Club?
LL: I like that it’s small and that it’s private in the sense that you’re away from the city and development—even though it’s right here. Anytime you see people come by you know they’ve made an effort because it’s out of the way. I like rivers more than the beach and I love mountains, so being near (the Palisades) cliffs is good.

ICC: Besides the kayaking, you do a lot of carpentry at the boathouse?
LL: Most of the work I do for “work” I do with my brain. So I try to balance that out by also working with my hands. I have had a chance to learn a lot and teach a lot at ICC. We’re currently building a new dock. I carved myself a Greenland paddle, made in the traditional way of the northern peoples. They didn’t have access to big pieces of wood—what they got was usually carried on currents. So they made the paddles long and skinny. It’s very similar to what we do at the Club; we’re always reclaiming wood out of the river.

ICC: What’s it been like watching your kids grow up on the Hudson?
LL: Haydée is four and has been in canoes since she was a toddler. We have a couple tiny life jackets that fit her. Nico is almost 10 now, but he’s been on the river since he was seven, when first I took him out in a tandem. By the time he was eight, he was on his own. He’s really good. At first I thought it was me being proud of him, but a lot of our experienced paddlers tell me he’s a natural. Young people get things a lot more quickly. Like any other sport, craft, or language, paddling has its own language and economy of movement. Plus it’s really empowering. Even with a chaperone it feels like it’s just him in this huge mile-wide estuary.