After a beautiful sunrise over the Freedom Tower, the day started with legend Doc Paskowitz regaling the crowd at Pier 40 in Manhattan on August 17th telling a tale of 3 paddlers: Duke Kahanamoku, John Zapotocky, and Bobby Achoy. He ended his story by saying that they’d be proud of everyone taking part in the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance’s 6th annual SEAPaddleNYC to raise money and awareness for children with autism and the environment. By the end of the day 200 paddlers did them and Doc proud on the 26.5 mile paddle, battling brutal 20+ MPH headwinds and relentless currents on the Harlem and East River after a rare tailwind gave everyone a blazing start up the Hudson.
The Harlem river was a knock-down brawl for most, bringing many paddlers to their knees, literally and figuratively. Each bridge crossing was an ordeal, many stuck for minutes at a time paddling in the same spot until the currents shifted slightly or the winds briefly subsided. Crafty paddlers sought windless pockets and eddies along the sides of the river or wove through pilings—anything to avoid the wind and current. Those who stopped to hydrate or power up were swept backward at alarming speed and lost the ground they’d fought for over the past few minutes.
The home stretch on the East River is usually a thrilling roller coaster ride with an outflowing current of 5-10 knots and occasional standing waves, but even that was brought to a crawl by headwinds that spun paddlers sideways. But Hell Gate lived up to its reputation—keeping paddlers locked in place with its whirling currents for agonizing minutes or tossing them off their boards with its unpredictable waves.
The flotilla of support boats including NYPD, FDNY, and USCG kept everyone hydrated and safe. Tye Conklin, a US Coast Guard rescue swimmer paddling for Best Day Foundation said, “when I was struggling on the Harlem River, the FDNY boat gave me the most delicious candy bar of my life. That and paddling for the children helped me power through to the end.”
Many exhausted paddlers who’d given it their all got lifts or tows on the toughest stretches from the support boats. The safety crew also had to force some stubborn paddlers out of the water & ferry them a few miles before the tide changed on the East river yet again. Yet many plowed on doggedly to the end. Veteran paddler Chris Macioch said, “it was the hardest mental and physical test to date in my life.”
The conditions were no match for the Elite racers who powered through the course. Prone paddler Ryan Matthews came in first overall with a time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. Thomas Oneill and Jason Chew in second and third place in Prone.
Defending his 2011 win by taking first in the Men’s SUP division with a time of 4 hours and 17 minutes was O’Neill SUP champion, Rob Rojas, who came in second overall. “It was a long, hot, brutal paddle. Perhaps one of my toughest, but it was worth it,” said Rojas. “I am happy to have been part of a great cause in such an amazing, energetic city.” Billy Mehl and Mark Temme took second and third place in Men’s SUP.
2011 Women’s SUP champion Annabel Anderson hopped off a plane from New Zealand fresh off knee surgery and won the Women’s SUP division again with a blazing time of 4 hours and 22 minutes, coming in fourth overall. The second and third place women were Stephanie Shideler and Patricia Miller.
Celebs and famous personalities like Dhani Jones took part in the paddle. Actor David Chokahi, friends with a number of families with children with autism, and long-time paddler said, “these are issues that speak to my heart. If there’s a way to help them with more funding and research while paddling around Manhattan, that’s awesome.”
“We’re extremely grateful to every participant, event sponsor, and especially, our dedicated volunteers who spent many hours assuring the participants were well taken care of,” said SEA West Coast Director Andrew Mencinsky. “Our participants helped raise over $325K, which will go directly to our beneficiaries.”
“It’s great to see the commitment, generosity, and the spirit of camaraderie the paddle brings out in people,” added SEA Executive Director, Richard Lee. “It makes me proud to be a surfer.”
This year’s beneficiary organizations include Best Day Foundation, Autism Family Services of New Jersey, Autism New Jersey, Hawaii Autism Foundation, Parents of Autistic Children, Surfers Healing, the Virginia Autism Project, and Surfers’ Environmental Alliance (SEA). Since 2007, SEA has raised over $1.7 million dollars for Autism and the environment. Learn more at seasurfer.org or seapaddlenyc.org.
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