Los Angeles Times

Paddleboard record attempt: 'Superman does this kind of stuff'

"There he is!"

"You're the man!"

"Welcome to Newport Beach!"

Friends, family and other supporters cheered, whistled and waved at 34-year-old Will Schmidt, who is finishing a possible record-setting attempt to stand-up paddleboard solo down the Pacific Coast, as he pulled up to chartered yacht Paradiso in Newport Harbor on Wednesday.

Schmidt, of Laguna Niguel, started his paddleboard journey at the Canadian border more than a month ago and hopes to complete very soon the 1,400 miles to Mexico to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization. Having served as a U.S. Marine, Schmidt is a survivor of debilitating depression and an advocate for other military men and women.

"He's a leader and an inspiration for anybody," said paddleboarder Giles Finlayson, who came out Wednesday morning to cheer on Schmidt.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what this guy is doing," said supporter Pamela Strom.

"He touches a lot of lives and he touched mine," said Greg Beckler, who organized a paddle to raise funds for his daughter, Raelyn, who was diagnosed with leukemia. Beckler met Schmidt in the paddleboarding community and they became friends. When Schmidt learned of Beckler's cause, he wanted to help.

"He would ask me, 'What do you need?'" said Beckler.

On this day, Beckler — joined by his wife, daughter and son — was there on the yacht to cheer on his friend.

"Superman does this kind of stuff," Beckler whispered to Raelyn as they waved to Schmidt.

Newport Beach resident and fellow paddleboarder Omar Simsek said he admired Schmidt for embarking on such a journey and arranged for a couple dozen supporters to go to Blue Water Marina to board the chartered boat, from which they could watch Schmidt as he paddled into Newport from Huntington Beach.

"We're all about the water and cause," Simsek said. "This is a community coming out to support Will, and we're all friends and family here."

Once Simsek reached out to Paradiso Yacht Charters, Capt. John Pringle wanted to get involved immediately.

"When Omar told us what was happening, we wanted to participate," Pringle said. "I'm a former Marine and I really wanted to help."

Schmidt, who completed his 55th day of paddling, expects to finish the trip in 58 days — 61 if you count the three days off water because of a toe injury and foul weather.

It has been, to say the least, an epic ride for Schmidt.

He has lost fingernails, grown a beard and bronzed his feet.

He didn't see people for 100 miles while paddling near Big Sur, but he did see whales, sea lions and dolphins splash around him.

He saw a shark, but after one look at each other, the shark took off.

The scariest moment was in Bodega Bay, where the sandbars were constantly changing. He had 20 or more breakers coming out of nowhere.

"I didn't think I was going to make it out of Bodega Bay," Schmidt said.

Any time he was on shore, he would break for a cheeseburger, a Kit Kat bar and coffee.

He knows that he doesn't want to paddleboard again in certain places in Washington and Oregon but will be back to Big Sur.

How does he maintain his drive?

A friend told Schmidt to keep his brain safe.

"What starts to get to you is your mind," said Schmidt, who joined his well-wishers on the boat. "I'd set goals for myself and say, 'I'll take a break after 5 miles.'"

After his cellphone broke during a coral reef accident, Schmidt had to rely on a map and a compass. He knew he was alone. But he was quick to spin the positive.

"I'm keeping it lighthearted, and even during devastating times, I remind myself I signed up for this," he said.

But there were sacrifices.

He lost his job during the journey and felt that he had abandoned someone he had just started dating.

"I'm very supportive and proud but at the same time nervous and hopeful," said Schmidt's girlfriend, Kelly Huck, who was there for his special moment. "His spirit is always in check and he's got to be the most inspirational guy alive."

Schmidt, who has been paddleboarding for eight years, has been averaging 20 to 30 miles a day.

"This is what keeps him alive," said his mother, Peggy Schmidt, about her son's love of the water sport. With his mother was Schmidt's 88-year-old grandmother, Angie Winegar, both visiting from Indiana.

"He will write a book one day," Winegar said proudly.

Schmidt said he gives thanks to San Clemente-based Flow Sports, which designed the Sandwich Islands Composites board.

Anthony Scaturro, president of Flow Sports Inc., provided Schmidt with an F16 model, designed to paddle in open waters. The boards are known as the Ferraris of SUP boards. Scaturro cheered on Schmidt from the boat and was proud to have given him a design that can glide on the swells.

But Schmidt has an eventful few more days ahead. He will launch at 9 a.m. Thursday from Dana Point Harbor headed to Oceanside. Friday he plans to leave Oceanside for La Jolla and Saturday finish at the Mexican border.

"I've never been happier and I've never been more terrified," Schmidt said.

His most pleasant moment?

He's quick to let out a laugh. "Right now."

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