PADDLE UP: Teen Readies for Block Island Challenge

Maeve O'Donoghue on her paddleboard off Long Beach in Sag Harbor. Later this summer she will paddle from Montauk to Block Island to benefit Paddlers for Humanity. Michael Heller photo

Maeve O’Donoghue loves adventure, loves sports and loves the water, so the idea of stepping onto a stand-up paddleboard to take on the 18-mile Block Island Challenge was pretty much a no-brainer.

At 13 years old, Maeve, who will be in the eighth grade at Pierson Middle School come September, is the event’s youngest-ever participant to date. A fundraiser for Paddlers for Humanity, the Block Island Challenge will push off at Montauk Point near sunrise on Saturday, August 25.

Last year, Maeve was on the organization’s support boat during the paddle, watching her father, Tom O’Donoghue, and her older sister, Rose O’Donoghue, complete the paddle. And after seeing Paddlers for Humanity’s new documentary, “Stand Up,” screen at Bay Street Theater earlier this year, she wanted in.

“It inspired me to do the paddle,” said Maeve, who is in East Hampton Town’s junior lifeguard program. “I thought it would be fun, and I wanted to prove I could do it, too. I want to help fundraise for charity.”

While adult paddlers must raise a minimum of $1,500 each, student paddlers must raise a minimum of $750. Maeve has already surpassed that and has set a goal of $5,000.

She’ll be paddling alongside her father, who has done the Block Island Challenge seven times.

“It is an unbelievable feeling,” said Tom O’Donoghue, who was the executive producer of the Paddlers for Humanity documentary. “People at Block Island line the entrance to the harbor and applaud you as you come in. It’s a six-and-a-half hour journey, but it’s not a race. It’s just a group of good people, good friends, having an adventure. There’s nothing better.”

Fred Doss, the co-founder of Paddlers for Humanity, said he is thrilled to have Maeve paddling with the group.

“I think our mission of bettering the lives of kids and youth resonates with the younger paddlers,” he said. “I give Maeve and the other young paddlers a big shout out, as the Block Challenge is both a physical and mental endeavor that takes focus and fortitude. There is a lot of joy in the experience, a wonderful sense of camaraderie, and when finished, incredible satisfaction. But it is a challenge, and for those like Maeve who step up, we are enormously grateful.”

Maeve is the kind of kid who’s always active. At Pierson, she plays volleyball — her favorite — plus field hockey, lacrosse and swimming. She also ice skates at Buckskill in the winter and surfs in the summer.

“I love to find new things to do, especially in the water,” she said this week, as a feisty summer wind whipped around her and her father at Long Beach. “There’s so much stuff underneath the surface. I love snorkeling and seeing things you don’t see on land.”

She and her dad know they have some long days of paddling practice ahead of them. The most Maeve has done so far is a two-mile paddle in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“You need to have some experience paddling in the ocean,” Tom O’Donoghue said. “It moves differently than the bay.”

Maeve’s mother, Carla O’Donoghue, says Maeve has mastered paddleboarding better than she herself has.

“I’m proud, but I’m a little worried,” Carla said. “I think it’s great that she is trying it. I think it’s a wonderful challenge.”

Maeve admits to being a little nervous, and was briefly concerned about sharks in the water and about keeping up with everyone else, before her father reassured her she wouldn’t have to worry about either of those things.

“I’m looking forward to the feeling of accomplishment of getting to the other side,” Maeve said.

For information about the Block Island Paddle visit the Paddlers for Humanity website at