Paddleboarders make holiday stop in NYC-to-Key West trip

Provided LouAnne Harris and Julieta “Jules” Gismondi of the Manhattan Kayak Company embarked on a 1,500-mile paddleboard trip from New York City to Key West, Fla., on Oct. 12.

What do paddleboard and kayak instructors do when winter arrives, the weather gets cold and most people don’t want to get on the water?

Some find other jobs and others go South, like way Central America South.

Ryan Kennedy of Water Dog Paddle Co., located on Seabrook Island, often heads to Nicaragua in February but he may be rethinking those plans this year.

The 36-year-old decided to be part of an epic journey by two young women, who are paddleboarding nearly 1,500 miles from New York City to Key West, Fla., and spending Christmas weekend in the Charleston area.

The women, LouAnne Harris and Julieta “Jules” Gismondi of the Manhattan Kayak Company, started their journey from The Big Apple on Oct. 12 and expect to reach Key West, Fla., in February. Harris and Gismondi, who are paddling 15 to 30 miles a day, are calling the effort Atlantic SUPergirls.

The adventure has meaning beyond personal experience. Harris and Gismondi have raised more than $14,000, as of last weekend, toward a goal of $30,000 for the nonprofits, Mission Blue and First Descents. They are promoting their effort via Instagram, Facebook and a Go Fund Me site, .

Mission Blue is an initiative of the Sylvia Earle Alliance that seeks to gain public support for the protection of “Hope Spots” – special places that are vital to the health of the ocean – through the creation of a global network of marine protected areas. Ultimately, the mission is to safeguard 20 percent of the ocean by 2020.

First Descents offers young adults, who have either survived cancer or are fighting it, with free opportunities to experience outdoor adventures.

Harris and Gismondi, originally from Alaska and Argentina, respectively, also are taking water quality test, specifically measuring nitrate and phosphate levels, at the recommendations by Columbia University’s John Jay College and Riverkeeper.

Wind & sand spurs

The challenges, as one can imagine, are many but the one that dictates everything is the wind.

Paddleboarders love a tailwind, but Ma Nature isn’t always cooperative on multi-month, long distance journey. Headwinds can limit mileage and even call for a day off. Side winds can require them to paddle on one side of their boards, which is much more fatiguing.

And while the two have good form and had hours to build callouses on hands, they say the thousands of strokes day after day for the last two and half months is taking its toll on their shoulders and hip joints.

The worst, however, is their feet. The combination of standing on them for nine to 10 hours a day, the cold spells of late fall and now early winter and stepping on sand spurs while camping on beaches has made their feet the most abused parts of their bodies, to date.

The genesis of this epic trip came in May after Gismondi paddled 287 miles around Long Island in 11 days.

“It felt too short,” she says.

The two wanted to do a longer trip and had “a million ideas” but the idea of departing from New York, where they had all their gear, was a strong draw. So was escaping winter. Originally, the trip was expected to conclude in Miami but with only a 170 miles more to Key West, it seemed better to go all the way to the southernmost point in the continental U.S.

Honorary SUPergirl

So how did a dude break in on this supergirl adventure?

Kennedy met Harris and Gismondi in September during Surf Expo, a trade show in Orlando. He invited them to stay at Waterdog when they were passing through.

But the more he thought about the trip, the more he wanted to be part of it, even though he had never paddled more than 20 miles a day. Kennedy’s specialty tended to be epic in a different way, such as hiking and rappelling down a dormant volcano in Nicaragua in order to paddleboard on the lake inside of it.

Harris and Gismondi expected to have people ask to join them for a day or two, but admitted to being tentative, at first, were tentative at first to let a boy crash their party. But he won them over by becoming their No. 1 supporter and they decided to make him an “honorary SUPergirl.”

Kennedy met up with them in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and is planning paddle with them at least until the Georgia border, maybe farther.

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