(July 26, 2019) Wayne Best will not only be competing in the SEA Paddle NYC, a 25-mile paddle around Manhattan to raise funds for environmental preservation and several nonprofit autism organizations for the fifth consecutive year, but he has also been named one of the event’s ambassadors.
“Because I’ve done so well with getting the word out, promoting the event, this year they made me an ambassador,” Best, who recently moved from Ocean City to Bishopville, said. “That’s quite an honor. [My job] is to get the word out, let people know it’s there, why we do it and who it helps,” he said.
Paddlers start their trek under the Brooklyn Bridge. They will 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.
“You have to be in shape to do this race,” he said. “There’s no way that you can try to be competitive going 25 miles without putting the time in. I think I’m pretty prepared.”
Best trains year-round for the race. Before going to work at Arctic Heating and Air, the 45-year-old is in the gym from about 5:15-7 a.m. five days a week. He is on the water paddling two to four nights a week.
Best also participates in several competitions throughout the year.
The first year, Best raised about $3,600 and came in first place in the charity class. The last three years he competed in the Men’s 14’ Elite Division.
In 2016, Best finished in seventh place, racing against several professional paddlers, and raised about $3,000. In 2017, Best was recovering from shoulder surgery and only had two months to prepare for the event. He placed 13th overall and collected more than $2,700.
Last year, the conditions were less than ideal for the race.
The sky was black, there was lightning and rain poured down. The charity race, which consisted of about 75 people, was canceled, but the Coast Guard gave the elite competitors the go-ahead since there was only about 25 of them and enough safety boats on hand.
With the event starting later than scheduled, Best said the tide changed. Nine competitors were pulled from the water shortly after the race started because they were falling into the water or not going anywhere.
“Right off the bat the current was ridiculously strong coming toward us,” he said.
About three to four miles into race, Best fell and the bottom of his ribs hit the edge of his board.
“At first it didn’t give me a lot of problems, but with the strong current I couldn’t catch breath,” he said.
At one point he said he was paddling as hard as he could in the middle of the river and wasn’t progressing. He saw fellow competitors passing him, but in fact, after the race they actually told him he was going backwards.
He shifted closer to the wall and got to the 11-12-mile mark when the pain in his ribs became unbearable.
“It was like a knife piercing me in the chest. At mile 13 I made the call [to drop out of the race],” he said. “I don’t think I would have been able to finish. I just couldn’t breathe.”
Best said he wants redemption this year and is determined to finish the race, which will take place Saturday, Aug. 3.
He raised $2,200 last year and his goal this year is $4,000. As of Thursday, he had raised $1,460.
To donate, visit https://seapaddlenyc.dojiggy.com/ab1aaba/reg-pages/pledge/waynebest.
“I think I might actually try to enjoy the race a little more this year, look around and take everything in,” he said. “There’s a lot of cool stuff you pass you can only see by boat or paddle. Winning is not the most important thing to me – I’m still going to push myself – but I just want to relax and enjoy myself.”
Best said he usually completes the race in about four and a half hours.
“I’m definitely going to strive to do it in four and a half hours [but] trying to raise money is ultimately why we’re all doing this,” he added.
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 $3.35 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.
Best is excited and looking forward to the event, which draws competitors from all over the country and around the world. He has also made many lifelong friends participating in the event.
“Race director Richard Lee is an awesome guy. We’ve become good friends,” he said. “If it weren’t for Richard Lee and how awesome he is I doubt I’d do the race every year.”
For more information about the event, visit www.SEAPaddleNYC.org.