Paddling for Humanity with Pete Stirling

Watermans Applied Science kicks off the third leg of its Paddle for Humanity this weekend in Washington D.C. We caught up with event organizer Pete Stirling to get the lowdown on this fantastic series that has done more than just get people on the water.

How’d you get into paddling?

I’ve always been a surfer and all around water-bug, but in 2006 I broke my wrist skateboarding and ended up spending the next eight months on the couch. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Afterwards, I had a really tough time getting back on a surf board. Around that time I was down in San Diego visiting Bob and Sue long at Bob’s Mission in Pacific Beach – those two have always treated me like family – and when I saw Bob I was blown away. The guy had gone through a complete physical change and seemed more stoked than I have ever seen him. He was going on about SUP and I had no idea what he was talking about. A few hours later he had me hooked up with Steve Boehne at Infinity. I picked up a board and paddle the next day and I’ve been in love with paddling ever since. It’s such a great way to stay active and on the water.

What was the impetus behind the Paddle For Humanity?

In 2008 Macon Brock and I were at the SIMA awards and listened to Dr. Dave speak about SurfAid. Our brand, Watermans Applied Science sunscreen (Watermanssunscreen.com), was gaining a lot of traction in the paddle market – thanks in large part to SUP – and we were looking for a way to give back. Macon was so moved after hearing Dr. Dave’s description of the hurdles SurfAid was running into that he felt the need to take action on their part. All I really knew at that point was paddling, surfing, and sunscreen so a fundraising event in the form of a paddleboard race just seemed like the perfect fit. The Paddle for Humanity was born – it has been three great years and we haven’t looked back.

This is the third and final event?

The first two years the PFH was a single event in Dana Point, CA. We had no idea at the time that Dana Point – especially Doheny State Beach – would become such a Mecca for the sport. Those events were great and the community support was phenomenal. All the local companies and some of the international brands really got behind us from the get go – Quickblade, Surftech, Futures, Hobie, Rogue, Honolua, Reef, Sambazon, Primo, Riviera, BARK, just to name a few – everyone was very supportive.

After the 2010 event, people were calling from all over the country asking us to put on events in their area. We brought on some professional help in the form of Rob Farrow and Sterling-Jones – part of the team that puts on the Molokai2Oahu Paddleboard World Championships – and decided to take a shot at it and see if we couldn’t make it happen. We settled on a three event series, including Dana Point, Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Washington, DC. So far this year we’ve had 300 people participate in a PFH event and as of Monday, we had over 70 registered for the DC event – that is huge considering we only expect 30 percent of participants to pre-register. I expect over a hundred people to hit the Potomac on Saturday. We’ve raised over $50,000 in our three year history. It isn’t a huge figure, but our goal of $100,000 is always out there.

Where does the money for the event go? Who is it benefitting and why’d you choose that charity?

Once our expenses are covered everything else goes to SurfAid. I’m proud to say that neither Watermans or myself have ever taken a dime out of these events and we run a tight ship with a small staff. We do our best to reach out to the local community for support and everyone we have worked with has been extremely accommodating.

We chose SurfAid because they do amazing things. They are a dynamic NPO that has continually adapted to the needs of their constituents, providing malaria education and prevention, clean water and sanitation and most recently disaster relief to the people of the Mentawais. Everyone involved in the event has had the good fortune and ability to see and surf those beautiful waters and each of us has personally experienced the substandard living condition of the local people. Being able to even make the smallest impact has been a life changing experience for all of us. I think over 90 percent of contributions actually hit the ground in Indonesia – so simply getting the word out is our most fundamental task (Check them out at Surfaidinternational.org)

Why’d you guys choose to host an event in Wash. D.C.?

It is the nations capital! How cool is that? During the planning phase we were talking about the possibility of doing an event in DC. I’d actually read something on the SUP Mag website about paddling in the area and it seemed like a fun idea. A few days later Denis Crean – a local open water swimmer who runs WaveOne Swimming (www.feelthewater.com) – contacted us and offered to help if we wanted to put a race on in DC.

What does the course look like and how many paddlers are entered?

The course will be a water start and finish located at the historic Thompson Boat Center. The Elite race will consist of two laps around Roosevelt Island with a turn up river at the Key Bridge. It’s a 2-mile, non-competitive event that will consist of one lap around the island. When paddlers come around the backside of Roosevelt Island they’re going to be looking at the mall and all the monuments, it should be pretty amazing. The Washington Canoe Club – an iconic club in the sport of paddling – has backed us and supported us all the way. Key local figures – such as Kathy Summers, Stand Up Paddle DC – have been instrumental in pointing us the right direction and making this happen. In a lot of ways, this is their race. I think once people see what happens this weekend there will be more events in DC. The people are amazing!

Learn more at Paddle4humanity.org