Words by: Rebecca Parsons
Photos by: Jonathan Kemnitz
The 7th Annual Standup for the Cure presented by Boardworks kicked off on Cinco de Mayo under blue skies and trademark California sunshine. Vehicles pulled into the Newport Dunes parking lot and paddlers from all walks of life emerged, decked out in every shade of pink imaginable. There were pink boards, t-shirts, tutus, headbands, sombreros and even a few dogs dressed for the occasion.
The day began with a popular SUP clinic led by Zane and Shelby Schweitzer, who walked participants through the basics of stroke technique, SUP safety and mastering turns. After a brief overview on land, paddlers took their newfound skills to the water, with the Schweitzer siblings providing on-water instruction.
Once new paddlers had some basic skills under their belt, participants gathered for a powerful ceremony. Following a prayer and traditional Hawaiian blessing, cancer survivors were acknowledged and donned with colorful leis. The opening ceremony concluded with the Schweitzers releasing a flock of white doves as a tribute to the friends and family members whose had lost their battle with cancer.
As the doves disappeared from view, paddlers hit the water for the traditional "sea of pink" paddle. Some paddled on pink boards, some on wobbly knees, some with dogs and others paddled with a crew of five or six onboard. But all paddled with smiles on their faces, united under one cause.
After parading around the bay, the horn blasted and the 5K race was off. Some paddlers retreated to the beach while others paddled under the bridge, cheered on by their pink-clad companions overhead.
Zane exchanged a SUP for his foil, flying through the sea of pink and setting an unofficial record for longest flatwater paddle on a foil. After the conclusion of the 5K race, a short relay race was held for the top five fundraising teams. Participants watched from the beach, cheering on the teams in good fun.
The first year of the event the team set a goal of raising $35,000. They blew that sum out of the water by raising $125,000 at their very first event and setting the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest SUP lesson, a record they still hold today. Since that first event seven years ago, SUFTC has raised over one million dollars for breast cancer research and support. This year’s donations are still being added up but are expected to surpass last year's total.
"Our goal wasn’t even to raise money, our goal was to bring cancer survivors together to share their stories," says co-founder Shawneen Schweitzer. "We came up with the leis because we wanted other people to have someone to go up to and talk to."
After the races were concluded, paddlers were treated to live music, tacos and beer. Some visited the Kaiser Permanente health expo where they received free skin checks and mammograms—by the day's end over 100 people were screened for melanoma and another 50 for breast cancer. People sat in groups, exchanging stories, hugs, and occasionally, tears.
This year's presenting sponsor, Boardworks, donated a slew of limited edition inflatable pink SUFTC boards. Boards were available for purchase at the event, as well as online, and 100% of the proceeds were donated to SUFTC and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
"We've supported this event in the past but we felt there was a good opportunity to partner in a bigger way and help SUFTC and the cause," said Andrew Mencinsky, Brand Manager at Boardworks. "We want to be part of the whole culture of SUP and help the sport grow."
SUFTC forwards 100% of their donations and proceeds to their affiliate partner, Susan G. Komen. The money is given back to the community through grants, clinics and organizations that put on screenings, education, treatment and psychosocial support programs for both insured and un-insured women.
With over 800 participants at the Newport Beach event alone, including 39 cancer survivors, the impact SUFTC is making is huge. While the organization is still young, the difference they are making is real.
"I'm a recent cancer survivor and I love to paddleboard but haven't in a long time," said participant Anna Gudvangen. "This gave me some motivation to come out today and get back on a board."