Saturday’s 2017 Block Island Challenge Paddle Is All About the Journey

Block Island Challenge gets underway
Block Island Challenge gets underway, Photo: Patria Baradi Pacis

On Saturday, August 19, paddlers of all kinds will take to the ocean to embark on what has become a formidable East End tradition—the Block Island Challenge.

They’ll leave from just west of the Montauk Lighthouse to begin the 18-mile trek to Block Island, Rhode Island, all to raise money for the nonprofit Paddlers for Humanity, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of children on the East End.

The journey begins at 6 a.m., after a team-building gathering the previous night. Though the majority of people stand-up paddleboard, kayakers and outrigger canoes are also welcome. Organizers time the launch with the tides and with a southwest wind to make the paddle go as smoothly as possible. Soon after, paddlers round Montauk Point, and the lighthouse fades into the distance. Before the rocky shores of Block Island come into view, paddlers take in the expanse of the open ocean. It’s easy to feel small. But with an expected crowd of 50 to 60 participants, Paddlers for Humanity ensures that no one feels alone.

Paddling in the 2015 Block Challenge
Paddling in the 2015 Block Island Challenge, Photo: Kelly Laffey

The paddle isn’t a race. It’s a inspiring journey meant to instill an appreciation of the ocean, the accomplishment itself and the dozens of local organizations that have benefitted from the money raised by Paddlers for Humanity over the Block Island Challenge’s 12-year history.

All who meet the fundraising minimums are welcome to participate, and a dedicated group of support boats, ocean rescue and jet skis ensure that everyone completes the journey together. Paddlers follow a lead boat, which is stocked with sunscreen, water and snacks. To guarantee that everyone stays together, the group stops about every 45 minutes to allow people to catch up and regroup. Paddlers take about six hours to complete the Block Island Challenge.

The final stop occurs at the mouth of New Harbor, Block Island. With everyone gathered, the group paddles in together, leaving an indelible impression on unsuspecting Block Island boaters. The group is close enough to the shore to answer beach goers’ questions, and the final mile is often met with cheers.

Viking Fleet assists with the Block Challenge
Viking Fleet assists with the Block Island Challenge, Photo: Patria Baradi Pacis

After completing the Block Island Challenge, participants indulge in a celebratory barbecue and party before heading back to Montauk later that evening on a Viking Fleet ship.

Paddlers for Humanity is an East Hampton-based, all-volunteer 501(c)(3). Since its inception, the group has raised over $1.4 million to support local charities, including a behavioral intervention program The Bridgehampton School; the Hamptons chapter of BuildOn, a nonprofit that runs after-school youth programs; the Catastrophic Fund, which assists local families dealing with overwhelming medical bills; and family service programs at The Retreat.

In order to participate in the Challenge, paddlers must raise a minimum of $1,500. Students under the age of 22 must contribute $750. Seven two-person relay teams are also accepted, with each team member raising a minimum of $1,500. More often than not, participants raise much more.

This year, NY360 East has been working on a documentary about the Block Island Challenge, which will premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival this fall. A short preview of the film opens with a quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The 12th Annual Block Island Challenge takes place on Saturday, August 19. Rain dates are August 20, September 2 and September 3. For additional information on Paddlers for Humanity, the Block Challenge and to support a paddler, visit

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