Brutal conditions don't stop paddlers from raising over $325K for children with Autism & the Environ

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.

Ryan Matthews charging hard towards winning the event.

Ryan Matthews charging hard towards winning the event.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

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."

A beautiful sunrise gave no indication of the conditions in store for the 2012 SEAPaddleNYC.

A beautiful sunrise gave no indication of the conditions in store for the 2012 SEAPaddleNYC.

© 2014 - Tony Cano

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.

More photos:

It started with a calm load in on Pier 40.

It started with a calm load in on Pier 40.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

More arrived to take part in the SEAPaddle NYC as it got later.

More arrived to take part in the SEAPaddle NYC as it got later.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

There was a wide variety of SUP boards of every make and model.

There was a wide variety of SUP boards of every make and model.

© 2014 - Anthony Trufolo

SUPZilla – the Guinness World Record holding largest SUP – was there.

SUPZilla – the Guinness World Record holding largest SUP – was there.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Crafted after the Mar Mostro racing yacht, the ultra high-performance Laird Puma SUP from Down Under CT. Or is that a rocket?

Crafted after the Mar Mostro racing yacht, the ultra high-performance Laird Puma SUP from Down Under CT. Or is that a rocket?

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Paddlers stretched and hydrated in preparation for the event.

Paddlers stretched and hydrated in preparation for the event.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Famous actors & personalities like NFL star Dhani Jones participated & covered the paddle.

Famous actors & personalities like NFL star Dhani Jones participated & covered the paddle.

© 2014 - Anthony Trufolo

Paddlers piled into the water after Doc’s kick off.

Paddlers piled into the water after Doc’s kick off.

© 2014 - Tony Cano

Izzy Paskowitz represents for the kids, as organizations like Surfers Healing, 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 are event beneficiaries.

Izzy Paskowitz represents for the kids, as organizations like Surfers Healing, 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 are event beneficiaries.

© 2014 - Anthony Trufolo

All types of paddle craft & some patriotic paddlers soon dotted the Hudson.

All types of paddle craft & some patriotic paddlers soon dotted the Hudson.

© 2014 - Cole Slutzky

Paddlers gathered together prior to the paddle.

Paddlers gathered together prior to the paddle.

© 2014 - Jamie Biesiada

Over 200 paddlers circled up.

Over 200 paddlers circled up.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Then they were off.

Then they were off.

© 2014 - Tony Cano

Extreme athlete Darian Boyle is a stand out in any sport and any crowd.

Extreme athlete Darian Boyle is a stand out in any sport and any crowd.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

A different kind of rush hour on the Hudson.

A different kind of rush hour on the Hudson.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Oh no, there goes Tokyo… SUPZilla.

Oh no, there goes Tokyo… SUPZilla.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

The Elite race started half hour later.

The Elite race started half hour later.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

The Statue of Liberty oversees the start and finish.

The Statue of Liberty oversees the start and finish.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Ryan Matthews likes the tail wind and favorable current on the Hudson.

Ryan Matthews likes the tail wind and favorable current on the Hudson.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Extra thanks to Keith Duval for organizing the support boats to keep paddlers safe during the event.

Extra thanks to Keith Duval for organizing the support boats to keep paddlers safe during the event.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

The NYPD helped keep paddlers safe and hydrated.

The NYPD helped keep paddlers safe and hydrated.

© 2014 - Tony Cano

The most beautiful view of New Jersey.

The most beautiful view of New Jersey.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

The most beautiful view of New Jersey.

The most beautiful view of New Jersey.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Rob Rojas powers under the George Washington bridge.

Rob Rojas powers under the George Washington bridge.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Recent knee surgery didn’t seem to slow down Annabel Anderson one bit.

Recent knee surgery didn’t seem to slow down Annabel Anderson one bit.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

The support boats had to wait at the Henry Hudson Bridge to open, but paddlers cruised on under.

The support boats had to wait at the Henry Hudson Bridge to open, but paddlers cruised on under.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Once they got on the Harlem, most felt that this C stood for challenge as relentless 20+ MPH head winds kicked in from that point on.

Once they got on the Harlem, most felt that this C stood for challenge as relentless 20+ MPH head winds kicked in from that point on.

© 2014 - Tamra Butler

Some boards bit right through the wind.

Some boards bit right through the wind.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

And some cruised on the flat water.

And some cruised on the flat water.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Then the current also started going against paddlers.

Then the current also started going against paddlers.

© 2014 - Cole Slutzky

Then the current also started going against paddlers.

Then the current also started going against paddlers.

© 2014 - Cole Slutzky

Crafty paddlers hugged the sides of the river seeking windless pockets and slower currents or used the pilings as a wind break.

Crafty paddlers hugged the sides of the river seeking windless pockets and slower currents or used the pilings as a wind break.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

Though they still battled the current, many SUP paddlers envied those on prone boards with a lower wind profile.

Though they still battled the current, many SUP paddlers envied those on prone boards with a lower wind profile.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

The usual roller coaster speed run down the East River was slowed to a crawl by the hellacious headwinds.

The usual roller coaster speed run down the East River was slowed to a crawl by the hellacious headwinds.

© 2014 - Anthony Bianciella

While Hell Gate tossed plenty of paddlers, it was no match for Annabel Anderson.

While Hell Gate tossed plenty of paddlers, it was no match for Annabel Anderson.

© 2014 - Anthony Trufolo

O’Neill SUP champion Rob Rojas said it was one of the hottest and toughest paddles he’s ever done.

O’Neill SUP champion Rob Rojas said it was one of the hottest and toughest paddles he’s ever done.

© 2014 - Cole Slutzky

Ryan Matthews charging hard towards winning the event.

Ryan Matthews charging hard towards winning the event.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Ryan Matthews taking a moment to recover after crossing the finish line as the overall winner of the 2012 SEAPaddleNYC with a time of 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Ryan Matthews taking a moment to recover after crossing the finish line as the overall winner of the 2012 SEAPaddleNYC with a time of 4 hours and 15 minutes.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Ryan Matthews, first place overall, first place Men’s Prone division.

Ryan Matthews, first place overall, first place Men’s Prone division.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Rob Rojas defended his 2011 SUP win by taking first in the Men’s SUP division and coming in second overall.

Rob Rojas defended his 2011 SUP win by taking first in the Men’s SUP division and coming in second overall.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Annabel Anderson defended her 2011 SUP win by taking first in the Women’s SUP division and coming in fourth overall, making Starboard proud.

Annabel Anderson defended her 2011 SUP win by taking first in the Women’s SUP division and coming in fourth overall, making Starboard proud.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Mad props to Jamian LaViola, Richard Lee, Andrew Mencinsky & the entire SEA crew for another outstanding event.

Mad props to Jamian LaViola, Richard Lee, Andrew Mencinsky & the entire SEA crew for another outstanding event.

© 2014 - Jorg Badura

Everyone cleaned up and kicked back at the White Water party at Harbor Lights in South Street Seaport.

Everyone cleaned up and kicked back at the White Water party at Harbor Lights in South Street Seaport.

© 2014 - Jamie Biesiada

The 2012 SEAPaddleNYC raised over $325K for Autism and the environment increasing SEA's incredible efforts to more than $1.7 million since 2007.

The 2012 SEAPaddleNYC raised over $325K for Autism and the environment increasing SEA's incredible efforts to more than $1.7 million since 2007.

© 2014 - Tamra Butler