A decade ago, seven people paddled around Absecon Island to raise money for people with cancer and draw attention to their needs. Since then, hundreds of people have paddled that same course to spread the message of the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation’s mission around the globe.
The original seven participants will be recognized at the 10th annual Paddle for a Cause Saturday, June 10 at the Frank S. Farley State Marina in Atlantic City. In addition to the 22.5-mile around-the-island race, the event now includes an 8-mile back bay race, 4- and 8-mile fun paddles, team events and a 4 p.m. after party at The Deck at Golden Nugget.
According to a press release from Sparkable, the company that handles publicity and marketing for the event, the original 22.5-mile course was designed by Randazzo's friend Mike May.
In 2008 Dean Randazzo was in the hospital with Hodgkin's lymphoma, and May completed the around-the-island paddle alone while thinking of his friend.
He said his intent was to map out a course that would give participants a taste of the intense physical toll cancer patients experience while undergoing treatment.
A hurricane added another obstacle to overcome for the paddlers who showed up at the Margate beach for the inaugural event. Accounts from the day report that the seven launched their boards from the Margate Pier through relentless swell brought on by Hurricane Bertha.
May, who now lives in San Marcos, California, will be among the original participants coming back this year. He said he has been training and thinking about the work he and his wife, Kate, began 10 years ago.
“We really believe that the growth is ultimately the work and efforts of the foundation. We knew it had potential, and I always expected the cities along the route to somehow get involved, so maybe there is the potential for that in the future,” he said.
“That first year, thoughts of Dean and what he was going through was the thread of the paddle purpose. This year, though, it is a celebration. It is bittersweet for me, as I lost my brother to cancer last year, and the economic effects were also devastating, having to sell his home to get care in his final days. The whole purpose of the foundation is to help people like my brother who not only lose everything materially but in the end their life.”
May said he is looking forward to the event's 10-year milestone.
“I'm excited to see the original seven; they were amazing guys who threw caution to the wind venturing into an unruly ocean and were the true catalyst to where the event finds itself today,” May said.
“I have to thank my wife, Kate, who has put up with my adventures over the years and is always there to put me back together on those occasions when I push the limit. She truly was the one who pushed us the first year to do the paddle in our home community.”
After two years of directing Paddle for a Cause, May passed the job to Paul Giunta of Somers Point, who has been involved with the foundation for the past 12 years, including two years as vice president and three years as president.
“Some of my fondest memories revolve around the fundraising events we have hosted, the people I have met and the new friends I have made," Giunta said.
"I have worked with some awesome and dedicated people; many have been my lifelong friends,” he continued. “It is amazing to think that Dean's illness could have such an impact on so many people over the last 15 years. Thank you to all who have supported the DRCF and my paddle fundraising over the years. I am forever grateful.”
Born in Atlantic City, Randazzo grew up in Margate and Somers Point. In 1989 he surfed for Mainland Regional High School at a National Scholastic Surfing Association competition in California. He turned pro the following year and ascended the international rankings, and in 1996 became the first New Jersey competitor to qualify for the ASP World Championship Tour.
In 2001, at the height of his career, Randazzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The foundation was started the same year.
Todd DeSatnick of Cape May said that after the first paddle, which was not a race, he never imagined the event would turn into an annual event.
“The greenhead flies in the back bay were horrendous. It seemed like every stroke included a swat at a fly. I was sunburned for a week after the event,” he said. “I never imagined the event would turn into such a great day annually for a great cause.”
Tom Forkin, 54, of Atlantic City, has missed only one Paddle for a Cause since the first year, to compete in the U.S. Championship of Surfing. He said the race is easily one of the hardest paddleboard events in the world.
“None of us really trained for it the first year. I would train for 5 or 10 miles, but you’re not dealing with the currents or the inlets,” Forkin said.
“Every year it’s been honking winds, big swells and crazy currents. But you embrace the challenge. There’s a brotherhood that flows from being a waterman with these guys that brings you all together. You get the tribe together to celebrate life and raise money for cancer.”
The event is open to participants on standup paddleboards, prone paddleboards, kayaks, lifeguard boats, surf skis and outrigger canoes. All paddlers are required to raise $200, which goes to the foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides grants to financially assist people with cancer. The after party is included with registration, and admission is $25 for all others.
For information or to register see thedrcf.org.