By Gavin Menu
Serenity can be found off shore on our local waterways, far from the bustling main streets and clogged roadways that consume the East End every summer season. There are times when the two worlds collide—crowds jockeying for position on the water—as was the case Saturday at Havens Beach in Sag Harbor, where close to 200 paddlers turned out for one of the most anticipated benefits of the summer season.
The Hamptons Paddle for Pink was held for the fourth straight year, and for the fourth straight year it raised more money than the record-setting year before, with a total of $1.6 million pledged this year for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Havens Beach on Saturday set an inspiring stage for Maria Baum, a Sag Harbor resident, breast cancer survivor and founder of Paddle for Pink.
“Paddle boarding is a personal reprieve for me,” Baum said. “As a breast cancer survivor, the sport gave me and continues to give me a much-needed outlet. Sharing it with others while raising funds for life-saving research is my personal way of paying it forward.”
Chris Hanson, 32, of Greenport, who works as a boat captain at the Waterfront Marina in Sag Harbor, won the 3-mile race with a time of 46:05. Tom Florio, 45, of New York was second in 46:19 and Nathan Reese, 37, of Sunnyside was third in 48:55.
Complete results are available at prtiming.com.
Andrew Dima, 27, of Rockaway Park, won the 6-mile SUP race with a time of 1:16:16 and was followed closely by Joseph Laundrie, 29, of West Sayville (1:17:15) and Rick Drew, 54, of East Hampton (1:17:24).
All three competitors said afterward that the three-lap course off Sag Harbor presented some serious challenges.
“It was a tough course,” said Drew, who manages Main Beach Surf and Sport in Wainscott and helps organize a series of paddle events every summer, including the upcoming Great Peconic Race on September 20 and the Race for Ocean Rescue on October 10. “At the far turn we had a little wind against the tide creating a rip line and they placed the buoy right on the rip line. The turns were very challenging because you had winds and chop rocking the board.”
Both Dima and Laundrie are experienced distance paddlers and will compete in the SEA Paddle NYC race circumnavigating Manhattan on August 15, a 25-mile trek that has raised over $1.8 million for environmental preservation and numerous autism non-profits. The strategy involved in these distance paddles varies with the conditions, Dima said after finishing on Saturday.
“Usually in the beginning there is a drafting system where everyone takes turns leading the way, causing a little bit less resistance,” Dima said. “But this was just an all-our brawl today because it was just wind and waves.”
Stand-up paddling continues to grow as a sport and as a causal pursuit for people of all ages and ability levels. More and more non-profit organizations and charities are capitalizing on the popularity, using paddling and the East End’s pristine waterways as a way to raise funds for their specific causes.
One of the first to do this was Paddlers for Humanity, which on August 29 will host the 10th annual Block Paddle, an 18-mile open ocean paddle from Montauk Point to Block Island. The event is not just designed for expert paddlers or athletes, with all levels welcome. The approximate six-hour paddle will begin around 6 a.m. on the north side of the Montauk Lighthouse and end at Champlin’s Marina on Block Island. At least four support boats will be in the water along with a handful of jet skis and experienced ocean rescue personnel. Mercifully, a return ferry will take paddlers back to Montauk at 5 p.m.
“These events are all great, and it’s wonderful all the fundraising that’s involved,” said Fred Doss, the co-founder and co-president of Paddlers for Humanity, which has raised over $1 million through the Block Paddle and other events in support of comprehensive mental health programs for children, including greater early intervention outreach, resiliency, and anti-bullying campaigns.
“We’re unique in that it’s open ocean and the distance is about 18 miles,” Doss said about the Block Paddle. “It’s an endeavor, but we stress to everyone that it’s not a race. It’s an opportunity to do something very unique. We’re always surrounded by support boats, we stay together. There’s a real sense of comfort.”
The charity paddle season won’t end with Labor Day, either. Paddlers participating in the Great Peconic Race on Sunday, September 20, will attempt to circumnavigate Shelter Island in support the Peconic Baykeeper organization and its protection of local waters. The full course is 19 miles around Shelter Island, with an 11-mile half course also offered as an option. Unlike other events, the Great Peconic Race is exactly that, a race where male and female winners will earn a $1,000 prize.
Regardless of where the money flows, several things have become clear through the emergence of these paddling events on the water. The first is that paddling, and stand-up paddling in particular, is as popular as ever. The second is that communities, friendships and lasting relationships continue to grow and build around the water, a true East End way of life.
“It’s probably one of the best feelings in the world to have all this support and love,” said Hanson, the winner of Saturday’s 3-mile paddle in Sag Harbor. “Everyone’s here sharing a sport we can all do. It’s really amazing.”