Monday, May 5, 2008

People Paddle Fundraiser for AIDS

On Sunday, May 4, 2008, 200 kayakers hit the water at Pier 40 in San Francisco and paddled from there to McCovey Cove and beyond (route map) to raise money for AIDS services in an event called, People Paddle for AIDS. The event was hosted by Healing Waters, and kayaks were provided at discounted rental rates by City Kayak. There were a great many first time kayakers out there, getting advice and instruction from those of us with a little experience, and I hope they were bitten by the bug. Time to go kayak shopping!

I signed up for this event after I learned about if from the events listings in Sea Kayaker magazine. It was so easy to register online. A $25 registration fee was required, then you have to start gathering sponsors. You can pick one of many organizations to raise funds for, and I chose New Leaf Services. This is an organization that has helped people I know, and I felt very strongly about working to raise money for them. People Paddle provides the website that your donors can visit to make donations, and that was extremely convenient. There is no minimum amount you must raise, but I set myself a goal of $500. All I had to do was email all my potential donors with my pitch and the link for my personalized donation page. I automatically received credit for the donations that were made at my donation page. I asked for $10 donation, because I was going for volume. But many of my friends surprised me with generous donations of two times, five times, and ten times that! Thank you so much! I exceeded my goal, raising over $800.

The day of the event came, and I had to get my kayak to San Francisco, into the water, and then park my car. How would it all work out? I arrived at the event, and all of the volunteers were wonderful. I can't praise them enough. Two young ladies picked up my kayak from my car and offered to take it down to the dock for me while I parked my car. Parking was not a problem on Sunday. I parked about two and a half blocks away on Townsend Street. It was close, and free, and there was plenty of parking along the street. After registering, signing some releases and waivers, I was given my whistle, safety instructions, and off I went down to my kayak and into the water.

At the dock I met Angela and Robert, tandem renters. Angela had some experience, but I think this was Robert's first time. They were very nice, though Robert wanted to know what was the purpose of the big squirt gun looking thing in the webbing on the foredeck of my kayak. Ha, ha! He'd have his eye on me to make sure I didn't use my bailing pump to soak him when his back was turned. Me? No, I wouldn't do that, now would I?

When I went to get into my kayak, another volunteer appeared to steady my kayak as I got in. Now, I'm used to getting in without help, with onlookers. Aware that I'm being watched, I always say a little prayer that I don't mess it up. The volunteers made it easy for me to save face. I offered to help another kayaker get into his little whitewater kayak from the dock, and he said, "No thank you, I'm on the US team." My bad.

When in the water I made friends with a number of kayakers, one of whom was Leeman, in his inflatable kayak. His had hard plastic bow and aft, and doesn't look like the cheesy cheap inflatables, though it is not expensive ($300 new) and he spoke highly of it. I have looked into inflatables such as his for my Honda Civic, but elected to get the roof rack instead, and continue to use my polyethylene Necky Looksha Sport. Turned out Leeman had a hole in his bow and was taking on water. Good thing it was inflatable and didn't sink. Patching the hole is a minor repair, so he'll be back on the water in no time.

The conditions were actually a little rough. There was some wind coming from the Southwest, and it was a little gusty at times. There were swells, but luckily no chop. The paddle was under way by 10:30am, and it was a fun group. Imagine paddling as part of a mass of 200 kayakers for a good cause. It was a great group, and a lot of fun. When we reached McCovey Cove, you get a great view of AT&T Park. There a fireboat started its pumps, and fired all hoses into the air. It was quite a sight!

At Lefty O'Doul Drawbridge, the tide was high and rising. You had to lean forward or back to travel under it. The safety volunteers warned, "Watch your head!" There was some concern that if we don't make the trip to the end of Mission Creek and back quickly enough, we might not make it back under the bridge. So, I hurried. We paddled past the house boats where some people came out to ask what was going on. Its not every day you see two hundred kayaks in your backyard.

I turned around at the end of the creek, under the freeway, and paddled back to Pier 40 without incident. At Lefty bridge a photographer was waiting for me, and I paddle my best, and gave him a big smile. That was John Han, Reporter Photographer of Check out his pictures on their site.

Back at the pier, I was second to return, and as I sidled up, a volunteer rushed over to steady my kayak as I got out. Best volunteers ever! Another volunteer helped me carry my boat up the ramp, then I went and got my car and loaded up myself.

It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about kayaking for their first time to do it at an event like this. You will get a lot of help in all respects, and it will be a very gratifying experience. If you are experienced, you will also enjoy helping others, and sharing the experience of doing a good thing for a good cause. There is another People Paddle event coming up for the environment, so check it out!

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