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Locals paddle around NYC for charity

September 2, 2011

On Aug. 12, eight local residents participated in the Fifth Annual Surfers’ Environmental Alliance [SEA] Paddle NYC event, a 26.5-mile, stand-up paddle [SUP] around New York City to benefit the SEA and raise autism awareness.

SEA is an organization that was formed by surfers and created for the preservation and protection of the environment, specifically near the coastline.

Locals from Brielle, Spring Lake and Sea Girt — including Derek Birkenhauer, Mike Coppola, Darian Boyle, Rob Hazel, Alex Iannaccone, John Ferraro and brothers Alex and Michael Faherty — all took part in the event, which featured more than 120 participants.

To earn a spot in the SEA Paddle NYC, participants had to raise a minimum of $1,000, with many of the proceeds going to organizations that serve children with autism and their families, such as Autism Family Services of New Jersey [AFSNJ], Autism New Jersey and the Hawaii Autism Foundation.

To date, the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance has raised nearly $250,000 for SEA and the autism awareness cause this year.

For those unfamiliar with SUP, it is a water sport gaining popularity, in which riders stand on a surfboard while guiding the direction of their travel with a large paddle. Throughout the summer of 2011, it would not have been uncommon for local beach patrons to see the growing trend of the sport.

Boyle, an SEA Board member and the lone local female competitor, has taken part in each of the five annual SEA Paddle NYC events over the past five years, and is perennially one of the top females in the competition.

This year, she finished second in the Women’s SUP Elite division, completing the scenic course in a time of 4 hours, 43 minutes. An elite competition was added last year, in the hope of drawing more participants to the event.

Boyle, who is also a world-championship skier, enjoyed the added excitement of the competitive aspect of the event.

“It was great to be out there, talking to people with similar interests and helping people with autism,” said Boyle. “It was a change to go from recreational to [competitive].”

As a board member, Boyle spoke of the work that goes into putting on the SEA Paddle NYC each year. The event, she said, takes nearly a year to put together.

“It starts the day after the last paddle and takes about nine months,” she said, of the planning that goes into the event.

The Sea Girt resident said she is grateful for all the help she and the board members receive each year.

“It could not happen without all the volunteers,” Boyle noted.

For participants like Birkenhauer, Coppola and the Faherty brothers — four childhood friends who grew up in the ocean together — just getting involved with SUP as a sport has been an incredible experience.

“This was the first year I ever tried stand-up paddle,” Birkenhauer said. “I like it, because when I go to the beach, I am not the type of person to just lay in the sand and take in the sun. I like to be active, and stand-up paddle gives you the opportunity to go out and get some exercise.”

The four friends spent much of the 2011 summer gearing up for the SEA Paddle NYC, which they finished in just over seven hours.

“Saturday mornings were early wake-ups so we could get out there before the winds,” Birkenhauer said. “Then, we’d go for paddles from the beaches of Spring Lake to Bradley Beach and back, or go from

Spring Lake to the Manasquan Inlet and back. It was one of those things where we knew we were training for a big event.”

Overall, Birkenhauer felt the experience on Aug. 12 was everything he could ask for and more, and he is already looking forward to doing the paddle in 2012.

“It was a unique experience,” said Birkenhauer. “I mean, how often are you on a 10- to 12-foot board paddling up the Hudson River? You are out there with your friends and participating for a good cause. It was a win-win.”

For more information on SEA, visit the organization’s website at www.seasurfer.org.

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