August 23, 2018

Sea Paddle NYC 2018
Evelyn O'Doherty

This year’s SEA Paddle NYC, a 24-mile paddle around the island of Manhattan, had spills, thrills and chills, a horrific line squall and a raging Hell’s Gate current for elite paddlers to battle.  As ever, the event did not disappoint.

At 7:30 in the morning, about 100 racers gathered underneath the Brooklyn Bridge after months of preparation and hundreds of hours spent fundraising for the cause behind this spectacular event.  Any SEA Paddler will tell you, once you complete this iconic journey and have challenged yourself in the East, Harlem and Hudson Rivers to raise money for the Surfer’s Environmental Alliance, there is no going back to the person you were before.  The SEA Paddle NYC has a way of worming its way into your heart and making you a better person.  For life.

Part of the reason for this are SEA Paddle co-directors Richard Lee and Chris Macioch.  These two men put their hearts and souls into the SEA Paddle NYC every year, working tirelessly 364 days to create an experience for paddlers like no other.  The logistics of the day are heavy:  safety boats, Coast Guard presence, NYPD boats, paddler hydration, after party preparations and so much more.  But, to see Chris and Rich underneath the Brooklyn Bridge at the start, each paddler feels individually welcomed, respected and congratulated for showing up.

It’s quite a vibe.     

The SEA Paddle NYC tribe is thick and they hang tight. Many paddlers have completed the journey multiple times so at the Start Line under the Brooklyn Bridge, there are a lot of hugs and the sound of laughter bounces off the causeway where 100+ race & prone paddleboards, family & friends, volunteers and paddlers dial in their excitement for another circumnavigation around NYC.

This year’s event was delayed in a dramatic fashion as a wicked line squall blew through at 8AM. The skies turned a forbidding shade of grey and brown as sheets of rain poured down, creating low visibility and waterfalls cascading off the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River below. 

The squall dropped 5 inches of rain in a half an hour.  Thunder and lightning in the area kept racers off the water for nearly an hour after that.  Suddenly, things had changed.

If you know anything about Manhattan’s East River, you know that even on its best days, it can be difficult to navigate.  SEA Paddle NYC directors Chris & Richie schedule the start every year based upon the ebb tide to get paddlers safely though the turbulent waters of Hell’s Gate (about 5.5 miles into the course) before it begins to rage.

This year, after an hour and a half delay, Chris Machioch and Richard Lee had a situation on their hands.  Not only had their start been delayed by an hour and a half due to the weather, but the 5 or so inches of rain that fell had impacted the conditions dramatically.  Hell’s Gate had awakened and was now flowing towards the Bridge at a heavy 4-5 knots and would continue to increase with each passing moment.

Much discussion.  Multiple looks at the radar and conversations with the Coast Guard and NYPD ensued. In the end, race directors made the only call available to them:  safety first.  With chagrinned looks on their faces, they announced the relay and charity paddle (a non-race contingent of this 24-mile epic event) would be cancelled.  They would, however, be able to put the16 or so elite racers on the water who could self-select whether they wanted to go, or not.

Many opted out. The raging current at Hell’s Gate is a major test for any water athlete and the delay plus added activity in the water from the rain allowed a few to bow out gracefully.  In the end, about 20 paddlers took to the water, an hour and a half into Hell’s Gate raging current.

The horn went off and the strong and few took off into the East River to challenge the rising tide.  Paddlers said the current was so powerful, there was no room for mistakes. Every dig of the paddle into the water had to be accurate, every pull had to be complete; otherwise, the current started pulling them backwards.

SeyChelle Webster, no stranger to the SEA Paddle NYC and 3X winner of the Women’s SUP event, set the standard and tracked her way along the left bank, sticking close to the wall to avoid the worst of the current.  Paddlers reported that the only way to advance in that raging flow, was to hug the wall so tight that every stroke risked banging the paddle off of the embankment. At times, they had to weave through old dockage and debris in order to continue moving forward.

Some struggled.  Others had to be pulled.  Of the 20 or so paddlers who took off, 9 couldn’t make it through Hell’s Gate fury.  Safety boats picked up those whose fatigue dictated their being taken off the water.  The field thinned.

The current, approaching 5 knots and rising, gave everyone on the water a chance to dig deep and draw from experience to champion the raging waters.  The look in these paddlers’ eyes when they talk about Hell’s Gate’s current this year, is one of ferocity … and respect.  No one thought it was a walk in the park.  Everyone was challenged.

After passing through churning cauldron of Hell’s Gate’s power, SEA Paddlers were welcomed to the other side with calmer waters and the sun beginning to peek out.  Exhausted but determined, the race was on.

Up the East River, onto the Harlem, paddlers surged past the old (and possibly best) Yankee Stadium arena, slid past the hallowed halls of the United Nations building and followed the waters up to Columbia University where they crossed over to the Hudson River under the train bridge.

Spread out now on the water, each racer began the final leg:  a memorable 8-mile grind up the Hudson River to Chelsea Piers.  These waters are some of the most iconic on the journey as watermen & women pass under the huge expanse of the GW Bridge, paddle by the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, duck passed the Circle Line, keeping an eye out for ferries and docking cruise ships to find their way to Pier 60. 

At the finish, friends, spectators and supporters who stayed to cheer on the elite, were on hand to shout encouragement, and bring the paddlers in.  It is truly an amazing sight to see.

The SEA Paddle NYC vibe is like no other.  Stand up paddle boarders and prone paddlers alike have to put everything they have into completing the journey every year. Full commitment is required. They say it is never easy and always worth it.  The reward?  Knowing that the money raised $158,000 to date, puts a smile on a child’s face at the Belmar Beach Bash, this year on September 9th, which offers a Surfer’s Healing event for children with autism.  The tireless workers at SEA (Surfer’s Environmental Alliance) once again, putting their heart and soul into their community. This event is a charity event so I would be remiss if I didn’t include top fundraiser Edmonds Bafford raising a total of $52,504.


2018 Top 5 Men:

Fielding Pagel        3:59:15

John Batson           3:59:41

Anthony Galang    4:25:42

Phillip Ramstack    5:04:56

Edmonds Bafford   5:22:56


2018 Top 2 Women:

SeyChelle Webster   4:00:10

Annie Reickert           4:29:15


2018 Top 3  Prone :

Ryan Matthews         4:18:02

Mark Spagnola          4:52:40

Adam Nussan             4:57:32


About  SEA Paddle NYC:                       

The SEA Paddle NYC is a fundraiser for the Surfer's Environmental Alliance.  This non-profit drives two initiatives:  (1) protecting water quality in and around Manhattan; and (2) providing Surfer's Healing experiences for children with Autism.

Specifically, the SEA Paddle NYC helps fund the annual Belmar Beach Bash: an Autism Family Services event that brings Surfer's Healing to Belmar, NJ on September 9th, 2018. This event draws over 8,000 people each year.  250+ children with disabilities and their families have an experience riding waves & experiencing the thrill of surfing.



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