Battling Thunderstorms and Current at 2018 SEA Paddle NYC

Photo courtesy of SEA Paddle NYC

Words by Christian Shaw

The morning broke amidst flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder.  It was not so different from last year, with morning squalls forecasted to break way for clear skies, but the storms persisted.

Seaport Manhattan and the East River take on a unique character during a solid storm, setting the stage for a grueling 25-mile paddle around New York City. Why do a few dedicated individuals torture themselves for the past 12 years, pitting themselves against the precipice of their own abilities? 

Chugging along with humble excellence, SEA Paddle NYC has raised nearly $3.5 million to get people on the water from all walks of life and areas of need. That’s what keeps people coming back year after year.  Some of the familiar faces each year come from long distances, like Max Montgomery who travels from Santa Cruz, California and runs the organizations that the event supports (Best Day Foundation & Paddle 4 Good). 

Photo courtesy of SEA Paddle NYC
Photo courtesy of SEA Paddle NYC

This year there were some amazing performances in the elite division, but our hat is off to the charity paddlers for the grace with which they accepted the tough decision organizers had to make to keep everyone safe after thunderstorms delayed the race start.  This race is highly current dependent and if you don’t make it out of the East River before the tidal switch, life gets hard and the start time of the race is carefully planned to account for this challenge.

Our CLIF Bar relay team started with the elite field, keeping pace along the East River, paddling hard to make Hells Gates (convergence of the East River and Harlem River), but as the river narrowed along the West Channel past Roosevelt Island, the current started to really pick up.  Following the metronomic strokes of Annie Reickert up the channel was hard work. When we finally switched up paddlers within sight of Hell’s Gates, the current was clocking 5.5 knots and rising. The pace felt glacial, save for the occasional glide on a standing wave.

Needless to say, this experience validated the tough decision made by the organizers earlier in the day.  A number of paddlers even in the elite division needed to be plucked from the fast-moving waters and the team was working with limited support boats due to the morning squalls.

Shortly after switching paddlers we circled back to tow Nick Kostallas, who’s jet ski had been immobilized. We found a sheltered creek and after dragging the ski onto a floating dock, we managed to cut a big piece of thick greenhouse plastic out of the impeller.

The hydration plan put together by the SEA Team with help from Plastic Tides, CLIF and Pathwater worked without a single plastic bottle and paddlers prepared really well for the event. 

The day cleared nicely for the elite paddlers, with a fast final run down the Hudson on a stiff current. The grit displayed in the final hour characterized the entire event and as another successful year came to a close aboard the Cornucopia, conversation towards next year was already buzzing. We certainly know where we’ll be.

2018 SEA Paddle NYC Results

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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