Good Causes Fuel Grueling Paddle ‘Round Manhattan - Manhattan Express | Manhattan Express

Good Causes Fuel Grueling Paddle ‘Round Manhattan

Edmonds Bafford practices his paddleboarding on weekends all year round. | Photo by Jamie Biesiada/ Courtesy of Edmonds Bafford

BY SYDNEY PEREIRAEdmonds Bafford has been paddleboarding in the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance’s (SEA) annual 26-mile race around Manhattan since 2013. To date, he has raised some $200,000 for the group, which supports environmental causes as well as autism non-profits. On Saturday, August 11, Bafford, now a board member at the Alliance, will race for the sixth year in a row and be among about 150 competitors.

But every year after the grueling race from the Brooklyn Bridge up and around Manhattan and ending at Chelsea Piers, the Upper East Sider almost calls it quits.

“There’s a joke that my wife and I have [that] everytime I finish the race I tell her I’m never going to do it again,” Bafford said. “And 20 minutes later, after I think about the money I’ve raised and what it goes toward, I always say, ‘Okay, I’m signing back up.’”

The 48-year-old hedge fund research analyst by day spends his weekends — even during the winter! — paddleboarding, typically in Long Island.

“As long as the water’s not frozen, I’m out on it all year round,” he said.

“It’s actually really cool when you can be out on the water and it’s not frozen, but it’s snowing and you’re still paddling around,” he said. “You’ve got basically about an hour, depending on what you’re wearing, and then your feet and hands go numb. If it wasn’t for my feet and hands going numb, I’d be out there all day.”

Edmonds Bafford, a board member at the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance, will participate in the group’s 26-mile race around Manhattan for the sixth year in a row on August 11. | Photo courtesy of Edmonds Bafford

The SEA Paddle NYC race — and the training — may be tough, but it’s worth the escape from the stresses of life in New York City, especially given the non-profits that the money raised supports, he said.

Since SEA’s paddleboard marathon began in 2007, the Alliance as a whole has raised $3.2 million and supported nearly 240 non-profits that serve 57,500 families. Each year, the group awards scholarships of up to $3,500 to college-bound students studying environmental studies and sciences or coastal engineering. So far, the Alliance has  awarded 16 such scholarships.

“We are so proud of the paddlers, volunteers, and donors who continue to believe in our organization and help us put on this incredible event each year,” Richard Lee, the Alliance’s executive director, said in a written statement.

Two organizations the Alliance partners with, Surfers Healing and Autism Family Services of New Jersey, host an annual beach bash in Belmar, New Jersey. Surfers Healing connects elite surfers with children with autism and their families at the event and at other surf camps across the country. The ace athletes take the kids out on the water and teach them how to surf.

Bafford said some parents are hesitant at first. But once the kids get a taste of surfing, they’re hooked.

“The child rides one wave, and he doesn’t want to get out of the water,” said Bafford.

“You literally cry for the first half hour,” he added, “because it’s so unbelievable what you’re doing in allowing these families to kind of relax.”

The route for the 2018 race, with details summarizing what the competition has involved and achieved since it was started in 2007. | Graphic courtesy of the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance

One family told him the beach bash was better than Christmas Day for them.

“The biggest thing is there are no judgments,” Bafford said one family explained to him. “And that’s one of the best feelings ever.”

The Alliance is also partnering with Surfers for Autism, Parents of Autistic Children of New Jersey (POAC), and the Best Day Foundation this year.

Beyond its work with autism non-profits, the Alliance’s environmental efforts include support for communities battered by hurricanes — an especially tall order during last summer’s rough season. The Alliance delivered $2,500 in gift cards to people in Key West, raised another $2,500 for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, and delivered 130 solar lanterns to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, according to an update from the group in late 2017.

Since the race began more than a decade ago, the Alliance has restored two miles of dunes and planted 300,000 beach culms, stems of beach grass that inhibit erosion.

“This race is something that everyone should do because it should be on everyone’s bucket list,” said Bafford, emphasizing one more time that the causes the Alliance supports give him the drive to keep paddling.

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