Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 25 - September 1, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Paul O. Colliton Studio
Nearly 200 paddlers plowed through rough waters surrounding Manhattan in support of autistic children. “I’ve seen children smile, talk, and show emotions for the first time,” said big wave surfer Garrett Mcnamara, who teaches autistic children how to surf. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Sea-paddling for charity and smiles
BY Aline Reynolds
The fourth annual Sea Paddle N.Y.C. on August 13 hosted 200 participants that paddled, or “surfed,” 28 miles around Manhattan.
Stand-up paddle surfing has become “pretty hot right now,” hence the popularity of this year’s event, according to West Village resident Rob Hazel, one of the organizers.
“It’s like yoga on water – the core keeps you balanced, and it has the same calming effect,” Hazel said. “It’s the closest thing to walking on water.”
The annual event is organized by the Surfer’s Environmental Alliance, a nationwide nonprofit devoted to conserving coastal habitats and their surrounding waters.
“It’s the most awesome way to see New York,” said professional big wave surfer Garrett McNamara, who partook in the event for the second time in a row, raising close to $7,000 this year. Each paddler had to raise a minimum of $1,000 that was directed towards eight different charities benefiting autism. The event raised more than $300,000, including private donations.
The surf-a-thon began at 9 a.m. at Pier 40. The crew made their way from the Hudson River to the Harlem River, then headed down the East River. About 50 advanced paddlers took the same route in a separate “elite” race. They all ended at the South Street Seaport, where they celebrated at Water Taxi beach.
The paddlers braved tough winds that slowed them down as they made their way on the Hudson.
“Part of our planning is to time all the tides correctly,” said S.P.N.Y.C. founder Andrew Mencinsky. “It was very challenging.”
Some were more experienced than others. Hazel, who picked up the sport last July, splashed into the water more than once.
“You’re going to fall a couple of times. It’s going to happen,” he said. “The more you do it, like anything else, you improve.”
The day was not only about paddling and raising money, but also about making new memories with family and old friends. Hazel shared a special moment with his father, who would participate in triathlons without him when he was a kid.
“To stand-up paddle next to my dad the whole time…was like our marathon we never got a chance to do. He’s my hero,” Hazel said.
“It’s what you make of it,” McNamara said. “It can be the hardest race of your life, or a nice [act] for charity.”
Mencinsky and big wave surfer and teacher Darrick Doerner came up with the idea to host a charity event when jet skiing along the Hudson from New Jersey five summers ago.
“When we got to Downtown, we thought, why don’t we do a big fundraiser next year with stand-up paddles,” he said.
The 2006 inaugural event was a success, attracting 40 paddlers and raising roughly $40,000 in donations. Word spread quickly online and by word of mouth in the paddle-surfing world, leading to its growing popularity.
As manager of the event, Mencinsky had to help keep everything in control, not getting to paddle as much as he would have liked. “Sometimes you have to give up the fun of paddling to make sure everyone is having a safe day,” he said.
The organizers held the after-paddle festivities in New York this year for the first time. Previously, they were in New Jersey.
“We decided to step it up this year,” said Hazel, hosting the “White Water” cocktail and dinner, open to the public, at the South Street Seaport viewing decks. Harbour Lights restaurant catered the event, which also consisted of a silent auction, an awards ceremony for the paddlers, and a poker tournament.
Next year, the organizers hope to attract an even bigger crowd and play music on a loudspeaker as paddle-surfers cross the finish line.
“We’d like to take it to another level with sponsors as well as being able to handle a larger group of people,” Hazel said.
Downtown Express photo by Kevin Hein
Paddle surfers return to land at South Street Seaport, near the Brooklyn Bridge, after a seven-hour-long journey around Manhattan.