This guest post is by Andrew Mencinsky, Executive Director of Surfers’ Environmental Alliance.
Each year as I organize and advocate for our SEA Paddle NYC event, I am always asked, “why autism?” From the event’s inception, Surfers’ Environmental Alliance has endeavored to promote coastal preservation and the therapeutic effects surfing has on autistic and special-needs children. It has become quite apparent to SEA that without the protection of our surf breaks and waterways, pollution and industry will continue to negatively impact people’s health and well being, and forever change our marine environment.
Surfing is contingent upon protected shorelines and unpolluted waterways. From this basic principal, the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance mission was born. It may be obvious to most, but I can never state enough that clean water is inherent to the sport of surfing. Unlike relocating a stadium or practicing at a new baseball field, surfers do not have the luxury of creating a new ocean. Once a surf break is eliminated, or polluted water impacts a surfer’s health, the consequences become dire.
To an avid surfer and coastal resident, the importance of advocacy groups like SEA was apparent to me. It wasn’t until I saw the work of Surfers Healing, a SEA Paddle beneficiary, that it all came together for me on a much grander scale. The work of Surfers Healing made me realize surfing is much bigger than the industry and the individuals it encompasses; it can bring immeasurable joy to people’s lives. In this case, I witnessed surfing bringing smiles to parents and children who face the sometimes devastating challenges of autism and other mental conditions; I had the privilege of witnessing what many families were calling “the best day of their life.”
After my exposure to Surfers Healing, another variable was added to SEA’s mission: autism and environmental triggers. My home state, New Jersey, currently has the highest rate of autism in the nation. It is my strong belief that there is something in our environment that is contributing to this ever-increasing condition. For all these reasons, I could think of no better alliance for SEA Paddle NYC than with surfing and autism advocates. The link between the two – ENVIRONMENT – is an issue that is important now more than ever.
This passion and alliance between what seem like two incredibly different worlds was created with the help of Darrick Doerner, co-founder of SEA Paddle NYC. Six years ago, Darrick and I took a jet-ski ride from the Jersey Shore to lower Manhattan; our trip inspired the SEA Paddle concept. The first year was definitely a challenge, but we rallied 40 paddle boarders to take the 28-mile journey around New York City in support of four beneficiaries, one being Autism Speaks. Over the past four years, SEA Paddle NYC has grown in scope thanks to a dedicated group of stand-up paddle boarders, pro athletes, actors, musicians, and environmental advocates. Each year, we garner more support and raise more funds for organizations that are bringing support to special-needs families around the country.
We are very excited to return to Manhattan on August 13 for our fourth-annual SEA Paddle NYC. An estimated 200 participants will converge on New York’s waterways to raise awareness and monetary support for this year’s eight wonderful beneficiaries. We have an impressive fundraising goal of $300,000. With the incredible response we have received so far, I know we will meet this target. This year will also be the first time SEA hosts its popular after-party celebrations in New York immediately following the paddle. The fun will start on the afternoon of the 13th at Water Taxi Beach with our Ultimate Beach Party. We’ll then celebrate in style at our White Water Evening fundraising dinner on the third-floor viewing decks of the South Street Seaport catered by Harbour Lights Restaurant. We have a few spots open in our charity poker tournament, so please join us for a memorable evening at the Seaport!
As usual, SEA has to thank Autism Speaks for their support of our event. Everyone at SEA is looking forward to standing-up to autism on August 13!