Stand-up is no laughing matter for marathon surfer

By Jared T. Miller

Sheets of rain soaked Kevin Horgan as he paddled under the Brooklyn Bridge on his way up the East River. He had been going for just more than an hour, and had already seen some of the day’s extremes; blue skies and midday sunshine, dark clouds looming just beyond the Hudson as they rolled in from Jersey City, and a river current that fought continuously against him. 

Horgan, 44, had pledged to circumnavigate Manhattan on Thurs., July 2, three times over a continuous 24 hours. He reached his goal in 20 hours and stopped early at the request of the Coast Guard. He paddled 85 miles while standing on a surfboard — a sport known as stand-up paddle surfing. 

A seasoned surfer as well as a stockbroker based in Hawaii, Horgan took the opportunity of visiting New York on a business trip to do the long-distance paddle around Manhattan as a fundraiser. The money raised in sponsorship will be donated to an organization his brother founded which serves wounded veterans and children with disabilities. So far, Horgan’s efforts have brought the organization nearly $40,000, with an additional $20,000 promised by a challenge grant from Horgan’s associates.

“They call me the ‘Forrest Gump of paddling,’” laughed Horgan, after he had finished the third lap around Manhattan, several hours ahead of schedule. “I wanted to keep paddling but the crew was going to have a mutiny.”

That night, he said, was “mind-blowing.” He completed his first lap just before 9 p.m. Thursday traveling just over 4 miles for each hour he paddled. At midnight, firefighters saw him paddle by as they responded to an accident on the West Side Highway — and bowed in respect. Paddling up the East River again, listening to Tom Petty, Lou Reed and others on an iPod, he said the water resembled a sheet of glass. When he reached Harlem at 3 a.m., he recalled feeling as if he could “paddle into the moon,” as its reflection danced on the surface of the river.

As he was paddling alongside the F.D.R. Drive, Horgan remarked on the experience of trading the cliff faces of his surroundings in Hawaii for the skyscrapers and the landmarks of New York City. This was not the first time he had done such a marathon paddle; Horgan has paddled the 73-mile distance between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai back home.

Horgan, who is a stockbroker for the New York-based BTIG, an event sponsor, is married and lives on Kauai with his wife and daughter. He said he moved there so he wouldn’t have to be more than 3 miles from the best waves he could find.

“I got the travel bug early and ended up in Hawaii,”  Horgan said as he paddled up the East River. “I’m a stockbroker; I have to figure out how to pay for the surf trip, right?”

Horgan brother’s Harry runs an organization, Shake-A-Leg Miami, which serves children with disabilities. Harry, 51, has used a wheelchair since he was 21, and developed a camp for children with disabilities. Shake-A-Leg has offered its services — sailing, kayaking and other sports, all made accessible to the campers — since 1990, and is currently expanding to offer a similar program for wounded soldiers. The organization is currently underfunded, and Harry said it was Kevin’s idea to do the 24-hour paddle to raise the money.

“You see these kids in wheelchairs and they’re limited to the land — and they get in the ocean and they’re set free,” Horgan said as he paddled. “I want them to have as much fun as I do, and give something back.”