Days after completing a 450-mile solo standup paddleboard journey from Cape Charles Lighthouse in Virginia to Brant Point Lighthouse on Nantucket, Adam Nagler was laying in a New England bed on Sunday with ice on his hip to help alleviate the pain from a torn piriformis muscle he suffered on the trip, drinking protein powder and taking ibuprofen, all so he could recuperate and start another paddle on Monday.
Nagler, who calls Santa Barbara, California, home but shuffled between New York City and Quogue during his formative years and returns to the East End any chance he can get, turned 54 on July 20 in the middle of his paddle, which he was doing as a charity fundraiser for Fairwinds: Nantucket’s Counseling Center, which provides confidential, professional care to adults and youth on Nantucket who seek mental health and addiction services.
Nagler is no stranger to ironman-like endurance events. In the summer of 2018, he completed what he called the “Strong Island Special,” a three-stage fundraiser that began with a 128-mile run from Manhattan to Montauk, which he finished in three days, a three-lap, 391-mile bike ride from Montauk Point to Moriches Inlet and back again, and finally a 243-mile voyage via standup paddleboard from Manhattan to Nantucket Island.
Nagler said he woke up New Year’s Day 2014 unhappy where he was physically and basically started training right away. Eventually it led to him doing numerous endurance events for various charities.
“I was sitting at a desk and I was fat and I wanted to get back to the physical intensity of my younger days,” he said. “In my teens and 20s, I lived in Hawaii and I was surfing a lot. Then I moved to Colorado where I was climbing, and I was teaching both surfing and climbing well into my 30s and into my mid 40s. But I lost all of that along the way, and so I felt I really needed to get back to my roots and so this has been a series of adventure fundraisers for causes that really help people and places that have had an impact on my life.”
Pushing off from Cape Charles Light on July 3, Nagler began “Deep Fog Direct,” as he coined his latest project due to a number of factors. First, it would be a point-to-point crossing in open ocean, out of sight of land. It was also set to be a 13-plus day journey at sea without coming ashore, completely solo and unsupported, and it was not driven, in part or in whole, by trade winds, trade swell or prevailing ocean current.
Eventually, though, the trip had to be renamed to “Deep Fog Redirect.”
Almost immediately, Nagler was forced off the water when Hurricane Elsa charged up from the Carolinas. Then, he was well over a week into his journey as he set out from Sea Girt, New Jersey, ready to start a 62-mile, open-ocean crossing to Fire Island. As he was navigating the middle of the shipping lanes going into New York City, Nagler — battling 6-foot seas and winds of 18 knots — ripped his piriformis, a small muscle located deep in the buttock, resulting in a nasty black and blue.
The pain, Nagler said, was almost unbearable and something that almost ended the trip.
“I was about 10 seconds from hitting the SOS button on my unit for the first time ever,” he said. “I was getting cold, I was going to start getting hypothermic pretty soon. I gave it one more push to get into the wet suit. Something else kicks when you’ve worked that hard for that long, you don’t want to let down the people that you’re fundraising for. I was very close to calling it quits. If I hadn’t gotten my right leg into my wet suit I was done.”
It wasn’t too long after suffering the injury that Nagler got a welcome visit from friends Norm Stump and Tim and Carol Reed, who met him in the ocean just off the shores of Southampton. Battered and bruised, Nagler made his way on to Stump’s boat, where the Reeds gave him some steak and potatoes from Fellinghams and a cupcake from Tate’s to go along with a quick birthday celebration before he headed out back onto the water.
Of course Nagler had more struggles along the way, including navigating around a storm that put him 5 miles off course near Massachusetts. But after 24 days at sea, Nagler reached Nantucket, where he was met by friends and officials from Fairwinds for a small celebration.
On the fundraising front, 10 days into the paddle, $5,000 was raised for Fairwinds. But, as Nagler put it, “something pretty incredible happened along the way.” The Clausen Family Foundation announced it would match what was the ultimate goal of $35,000, so at the end of the day, $70,000 was raised for Fairwinds, which Nagler has a soft spot for.
“The reason I wanted to support mental health services is because I think it’s an area that’s underserved in the country and the world,” he explained. “When COVID hit, I started having conversations with people on the island, which is a small community and everyone depends on each other, but about a week later, it was just like it is on the East End of Long Island, where everyone just came out from the city, and all of a sudden everything is being stretched out. You go from being a population of 10,000 people to 50,000 people and everyone’s mental state was just really a mess. Everything foundational was upside down.
“So I realized a huge need for mental health services, whether it was family counseling, getting kids through school without any of their friends, addiction services, so it became pretty apparent that was going to be the fallout of all that,” he continued. “I was introduced to these guys [at Fairwinds] who were basically in the war zone. They were here, on the ground doing the Ullmans work, really holding the mindset of the community together, so right then I knew that’s what I wanted to support.”
Nagler’s current paddle is not a fundraising effort and is strictly personal, to visit various friends along the New England coast. In about two weeks time, Nagler will go from Watch Hill, Rhode Island, to Sag Harbor, around Montauk Point, before eventually landing at Moriches Inlet. He calls it “Red Right Return, Redux,” because the expression “red right returning” has long been used by seafarers as a reminder that the red buoys are kept to the starboard (right) side when proceeding from the open sea into port. And it’s “redux” because he’s done it before.
“A lot goes on, it’s complex,” Nagler said of his endurance journeys. “It takes a lifetime is really what it takes, a lifetime commitment to the ocean, a lot of people coming together to help you a lot. The saying ‘It takes a village,’ is really true here. It takes a village to make me be able to do this thing.”