(Aug. 16, 2019) The conditions were grueling but Wayne Best persevered, finishing fifth overall in the men’s Elite SUP division of SEA Paddle NYC, held Aug. 3.
“Me taking fifth place at SEA Paddle is probably my biggest accomplishment,” Best said. “I trained for it. I was ready for it, but when conditions get that bad you’re just not ready of something like that.”
SEA Paddle NYC is a 25-mile paddle around Manhattan to raise funds for environmental preservation and several nonprofit autism organizations.
Paddlers start their trek under the Brooklyn Bridge. They then head north up the East River, into the Harlem River, then down the Hudson River, finishing at Chelsea Piers Marina right before the Statue of Liberty.
This was his fifth time competing in the event.
The race was scheduled to start around 9 a.m., but it was pushed back about two hours because of the tide. Since it started later both the charity and elite divisions – which included more than 80 people – began at the same time.
“You can’t time it perfect, but they try to time it so most of the time you’re going with the current,” he said. “They want you to get to the top of the Hudson so that the tide switches and pushes you back the other way. That didn’t happen.”
Best, of Bishopville, said the first three miles were “insanely choppy” with a huge swell and boat traffic, so many competitors did the race on their knees to prevent from falling. Since he was in the stand-up paddle division, Best stayed on his feet, although he did fall in the water a few times.
“I got off to a good start. I did fall in four times, I think. The swell and the chop was just crazy the first three miles,” he said. “You kind of got wore out right off the bat battling with the tides and swell … the first six or seven miles down the East River was just crazy. Some people once they fell they just stayed on their knees it was so bad. They didn’t try to stand back up.”
Participants can chose to do the race laying down (prone), on their knees or standing up.
“They always tell you to watch out for Hell’s Gate where the three river come together because it gets swirly, but the beginning East River was worse,” he said.
Once he got to the Harlem River it was “smooth sailing,” he said, as there was not much wind and the water conditions improved, so he was able to pick up some speed. Things changed around the 15-mile mark.
“Fifteen miles in then you start making the turn coming into Hudson. About a mile or so before the George Washington Bridge you just got hit with a 15-20 mph headwind and the tide was coming toward you,” he said. “We still had nine miles left.”
With about five miles remaining, Best said he felt dehydrated and out of energy, but he kept pushing, determined to finish the race.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. At one point, you just think to yourself, ‘are you going to finish?’” he said. “I was just done and I still had five miles left, but you find something in you. You push.”
Because of the difficult conditions, it took Best five hours and 47 seconds to cross the finish line. It was a little longer than it usually takes him to complete the race – around four and a half hours.
Overall, the distance was about 25.3 miles when he crossed the finish line, and when he was done Best said he dropped to his knees, in disbelief how difficult the race was.
He wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Many of the seasoned competitors he spoke to after the race also said this was one of, if not the, toughest race they’ve participated in.
Best didn’t know his exact placement when he finished, so when he found out he came in fifth overall, he was stoked.
“People come from all over the world to do this race so to finish fifth is awesome,” he said. “I was just ecstatic and just thankful I finished because it was hard. I couldn’t be happier.”
Although Best said to himself during the race that this was his last year competing because of the strenuous conditions, not long after he was finished he changed his mind.
He was also able to raise $2,200 this year.
SEA Paddle NYC is the largest fundraiser for the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance, an organization committed to the preservation and protection of environmental and cultural elements integral to surfing.
SEA Paddle NYC has raised more than $3.4 million for environmental preservation and various autism nonprofits since its inception.
It also supports Surfer’s Healing, a nonprofit organization that provides autistic children with free, professional surf lessons. An annual camp is held in Ocean City each summer for children. It took place this week in the resort.
“This event seems to get a little more difficult each year but the results make it all worth the effort,” race Director Richard Lee posted on Facebook on Aug. 6. “With an astounding pledge of $50,000 on Monday we are at over $165,000.00 in pledges.This will help so many worthy charities.”
For more information about the event, visit www.SEAPaddleNYC.org.