Bob Chaloner has spent his life dedicated to service — as chief administrative officer of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, his career has been rooted in helping others. This past Saturday, Chaloner took that same commitment outside the office, to a stretch of water between Montauk Point and Block Island.
Chaloner joined Paddlers For Humanity’s 14th annual Block Island Challenge, in which participants travel 18 miles from the Montauk Lighthouse to Block Island by way of stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, all in support of local charities.
Chaloner, 62, has worked at Stony Brook Southampton for the last 13 years.
“When I first told people I was doing [the paddle], I think a lot of people were incredulous,” Chaloner said. “I’m an average athlete,” he said, adding that he doesn’t deem himself a “gym rat.”
But fitness-junkie or not, Chaloner completed the challenge on Saturday — with partner Oscar Mandes — and cited it as “one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.”
The Block Island Challenge, which aims to raise money in support of causes that affect “children on the East End” has been spearheaded by Fred Doss and Lars Svanberg since its inception in 2005. And through the years, the challenge has gained momentum — both in terms of paddlers and donations. This year alone, participants raised over $160,000 to fund the paddle’s mission of bettering the lives of East End children, said Doss. He added that specific organizations to receive the donations had not been decided upon yet, but will be by early November.
To raise funds, each individual paddler is required to donate or raise a minimum of $1,500, Doss said. Students participating are required to donate or raise $750. Though minimum contributions are set, many of those who set out on the paddle exceed the requirement by a tall margin, Doss said.
Two paddlers in particular raised over $10,000 each: Liana Huth, who raised $12,617, and Jonty Kelt, who raised $11,000.
Along with Mandes, Chaloner raised close to $5,000 for the event. “I think people were so incredulous it moved them to donate,” Chaloner said.
Huth has set a goal of raising $100,000 for the event next year, Svanberg said.
“It’s amazing what people do,” said Svanberg. “They come through and fundraise, often significantly more than the minimum of $1,500, which is a feat of itself, and then they’re out on the water for six hours.”
On the day of the event, paddleboarders and kayakers arrive at the Montauk Lighthouse at around 5 a.m., in preparation for a 6 a.m. departure time, Doss said on Friday, the day before the event.
At the time, he was mildly concerned about weather conditions, and said that the expected wind might be cause for a rougher-than-usual paddle. But on Saturday morning, as paddlers took to the water, the conditions couldn’t have been better, he said on Monday.
“After doing this paddle for 14 years, we’ve seen all kinds of conditions,” said Svanberg. “But on Saturday, the gods of the ocean really came together and blessed us.”
For as much as the paddle is rooted in giving to charity, the event is an experience in of itself.
“It was transcendental,” said Chaloner. Just as the group launched from Montauk, the sun broke the horizon, and the sky looked like it was “on fire,” he said.
Paddlers first encounter a difficult region of converging waters immediately upon leaving Montauk, described Svanberg. Just beyond Montauk, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Block Island Sound, paddlers push through a difficult hour of sometimes-harsh currents, he said.
“Everyone’s kinda white-knuckling it for an hour,” he said. Once out of the area, paddlers “get in the rhythm, and your legs can relax and you can breathe,” he said.
Every hour or so, paddlers and kayakers stop for a routine break, in which support boats — traveling with the group — toss out waters, snacks, and words of encouragement to the participants.
“The organization is incredible … and gives you confidence,” said Chaloner. Though there were moments on the trip when he remembered asking himself, “What did I just get myself into,” the support teams of Paddle For Humanity were there to instill a sense of confidence and perseverance in the paddlers, he said.
Svanberg described the pit-stops as “festive” in nature. “There’s a unity of spirit” in those moments, he said, and remembered laughing and smiling alongside paddlers while refueling on water and snacks.
The lead support boat — which paddlers follow to retain the proper navigation — is manned by local commercial fisherman and owner Dan Farnham. His boat, the Kimberly, is equipped with a team of volunteers and supplies ready to support paddlers and ensure their safety in the passage.
The event “couldn’t be done without them [the volunteers],” Doss said. Volunteers for the event also include several jet skis — if a paddler falls behind the group, a jet ski circles and tows them to the front of the pack. “That’s just the way we do it,” said Svanberg. “We get people across, no matter what it takes.”
Support boat captains this year included David Tuma, David Saskas, Tom O’Donoghue and James DePasquale, while those on jet skis included Steve McMahon, Ling Li, Travis Beckman, Rory McFarland and Steve Brierley.
This year’s paddle saw participants complete the course in just under six hours, reaching the shoreline of Block Island at around 11:45 a.m., Doss said.
“If anyone’s looking for a challenge of a lifetime, and an experience of a lifetime … that’s unique to this area, try it,” Chaloner said.