About a year ago, with one eye on the TV and the other surfing the web, I found myself casually googling standup paddling (SUP) and New York City. I suppose my wandering mind was carrying half-baked thoughts of maybe doing some paddling while visiting my daughter who lives in Manhattan. Lo and behold, my browser led me to www.seapaddlenyc.org, an annual SUP event where paddlers circumnavigate 90% of the island – 25 miles – as a fund-raiser for autism, a cause especially near and dear to my heart. I noticed that 2016 marked the 10th year of the event.
I then found myself of two minds: 1) Could I do this? 2) Could I not do this? So, in mid-July, nearly a year after that googling session, I decided to commit, paid my entry fee, and set about raising the $1000 minimum expected of all paddlers. A month later, on the morning of August 20, I found myself standing knee-deep in the East River directly under the Brooklyn Bridge with 100+- fellow paddlers, listening to final instructions from event officials.
Following a prayer circle and the national anthem…
… I gave my daughter Scout and Hyde parent Andrew Siben (a veteran of the event who came to see me off) a goodbye wave…
…and headed up the East River at 9:30 AM with favorable currents and a flotilla of comrades on a brand-spanking-new 12’-6” Riviera Voyager.
I got into a good rhythm somewhere around the 5 mile mark as we hit the 59th Street Bridge. (Thanks, in part, to a fellow paddler’s friendly suggestion that I unravel my leash from the skeg of my board where it had been stuck, unbeknownst to me, since the start!) I’ll confess that I sang a few bars of the Simon and Garfunkel song as I passed underneath. Hey, among other things, I was most certainly feelin’ groovy.
We remained on the East River for something like 12 miles. ‘Twas hot, very hot. One highlight of this stretch was Yankee Stadium. Another was the harrowing Cuisinart that is Hell’s Gate!
Then we hung a left at the Harlem River where the water slowed down and we encountered a range of captivating sights: homeless colonies of hammocks, more bridges, lush green vegetation, the Columbia University playing fields. Check out this impressive display of school spirit:
This short stretch then emptied us into the Hudson, leaving about ten miles to go. Mercifully, the oppressive heat on the East River gave way to torrential rains on the Hudson, causing all of us to cheer the weather gods with delight. (Talk about refreshing!) By this point, we were spread out all over the river. It got a bit lonely as we passed under the GW bridge.
(Yep, that would be me.)
At about the 20 mile mark, shortly after crossing under the George Washington Bridge, the wind and swells kicked up, causing me to feel dubious about my prospects. (“I mean,” the evil quitter half of my conscience reasoned, “I’ve already surpassed my longest paddle ever by 5 miles…”) Seeking motivation, I gazed off into the distance. And lo and behold, way… way down river, my eyes found an inspirational focal point that abruptly squashed any thoughts of quitting, one that has served as a beacon to countless mariners before me: Lady Liberty herself!
With renewed resolve, I stroked it to the finish line at Chelsea Piers at about 3:15 — 5 hours and 45 minutes after the start.
One of the great things about this experience was indeed the camaraderie, especially heightened by my invitation to join Team South Shore Paddleboards. Spanning age 16 to 62 — Yep, that would also be me. — We supported each other along the way and each one of us finished. (Quick Tip: Team leader, Karen Marvin, founded and runs South Shore Paddleboards in Babylon, LI, NY. If you’re a New Yorker and you want to explore the world of SUP, look no further… and tell ‘em, Mal sent you.)
As far as the fund-raising went, 61 people – some friends, some parents of children with autism that I have yet to meet – contributed in my name to Sea Paddle NYC 2016. (Actually, there were 62. A guy on the subway who asked me why I was travelling underground with a paddle — a reasonable question — responded to my answer with a crisp twenty. Gotta love New Yorkers!) While I am proud to say that I wound up with the 3rd highest dollar total among over 100 paddlers, I am profoundly humbled by the concern and generosity expressed by these supporters who contributed a grand total of $11,100!
All told, Sea Paddle NYC 2016 raised over $300,000 for autism and the environment, smashing past the overall goal of $200,000! Granted, $300K might not cure autism, but it could add a piece to its mysterious puzzle. And that’s a good, very good, thing.
On the one hand, simple “Thanks” seems inadequate. On the other hand, it’s what my mother taught me to say and things tended to work out pretty well for me on those infrequent occasions when I listened to her advice. As I get older, I’m trying to be more consistent.
Keep Paddling… Onward, Malcolm Gauld