Standing up to the Hudson and East Rivers while paddling around


By Jared T. Miller

And he planned to do it two more times. He was in New York on business.

Horgan, 44, had pledged to circumnavigate Manhattan last Thursday 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”—and returned to the Intrepid Sea and Space Museum where he started the day. A seasoned surfer as well as a stock broker 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. It was the longest continuous effort he has made to date, and 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 four miles for each hour he paddled, but it was the events that followed which Horgan said impressed him the most. 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.

“I was just blown away with the energy of New York,” said Horgan. “It’s just nonstop.”

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 Oahu and Kauai back home, and said he stopped paddling last Friday mainly at the request of Coast Guard officials.

Horgan, who is a stockbroker for the New York-based BTIG, an event sponsor, is married and lives on the Hawaiian island of Kauai with his wife and daughter. He said he moved there so he wouldn’t have to be more than three miles from the best waves he could find, and the sentiment isn’t a new one. His upbringing in Newport, Rhode Island gave him early exposure to the water, and cultivated an interest that continues to drive him.

“Some years the Atlantic is great, and some years it’s ‘Lake Atlantic,’” Horgan said as he paddled up the East River, explaining how the water has helped to define his life. “I got the travel bug early and ended up in Hawaii. I’m a stockbroker; I have to figure out how to pay for the surf trip, right?”

Several sponsors paid for this surf trip, and for a good cause: Horgan’s brother’s organization, Shake-A-Leg Miami, which serves children with disabilities. His brother Harry, 51, has used a wheelchair since he was 21, but early on turned to what he knew from his youth in Rhode Island 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 under funded, and Harry said it was his brother’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.”

“To see him doing it for 24 hours, it’s tough,” said Darian Boyle, 38, vice president of Typhoon Marine, a sponsor of the event. She also organizes a yearly paddle around Manhattan as a member of the Surfers’ Environmental Alliance. “To do it for such a wonderful cause, it’s noble what he’s doing.”