Paddle with Purpose: The 2024 Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis Challenge

Paddling for a cause: the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, an extraordinary paddleboarding marathon stretching from the idyllic shores of Bimini in The Bahamas to the coastlines of Florida. Scheduled for June 19-23, this event not only challenges athletes with its demanding distances but also unites participants in a cause that touches hearts deeply—supporting the cystic fibrosis community. Organized by Travis Suit, founder of Piper’s Angels Foundation, the Crossing aims to raise both awareness and crucial funds for those affected by cystic fibrosis.

Hi Travis! The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis is a unique event with a heartfelt mission. Can you share the story of how this event was conceived and your personal connection to cystic fibrosis?

My daughter Piper was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at four years of age. Soon after, we learned about the healing benefits of the ocean for people with cystic fibrosis. I began taking Piper paddling on the front of a recreational board around our local intracoastal waterways; that began my love affair with stand-up paddling. One afternoon, while flipping through the pages of an outdoor magazine at a bookstore, I saw a story on paddlers out in Hawaii doing long-distance paddles between the islands, and I thought to myself, I bet you could paddle from the Bahamas to Florida! That was the moment the idea for the Crossing was born.

This event has significantly raised both awareness and funds for cystic fibrosis. How has the event grown over the years, and what impact has it had on the cystic fibrosis community?

This event started small with four paddlers, two support boats, and around $15,000 in fundraising. Since the first Crossing in 2013, I always imagined it would be a lot of fun for relay teams to participate, and that has been a huge part of the growth of the event. Now we have close to 200 paddlers each year, 80 boats participating, and fundraising exceeding $750,000. The community of The Crossing has built Piper’s Angels Foundation into one of the most impactful grassroots organizations in the world for cystic fibrosis. Last year in 2023, we directly impacted 306 families with cystic fibrosis in the US and abroad through our innovative social services and programs.

How many participants are registered this year, and what does this say about the event’s popularity?

This year we have 191 registered paddlers and we will have a total of 450 participants, including captains and crew.

For participants looking to take on the challenge of The Crossing for the first time, what training and preparations would you recommend to ensure they are ready for such a demanding race?

That depends on if they are paddling solo or on a relay team. If they are planning to do the full 80 miles, I highly recommend getting 250-350 miles of paddling in before the event, with as much time-on-board in the ocean. All functional fitness, balance training, and endurance is supportive of physically preparing; but the real challenge of The Crossing is the mental toughness because at some point it becomes a matter of pain tolerance and resilience in those open conditions.

Safety is a top priority in open water events. What measures and technologies do you use to ensure participant safety during the race?

Safety is our number one priority. We have a medical director that presides over the event to ensure the highest safety standards are implemented. Our director of safety and logistics is a multi-year participant and on the water marine patrol officer with years of training. We have 8 safety boats staffed with medical personnel that monitor the fleet and can provide real-time assistance. Each paddler and boat captain has a SPOT satellite tracking device to report their exact location at all times for their friends and family to track online and for our safety team to monitor. The US Coast Guard is notified of our float plans and is on call for emergencies. There are also firefighter/EMTs at the finish line to assist with any needs at the Beach Landing event.

Organizing a long-distance ocean paddle is a major undertaking. What logistical challenges do you face, and how do you address them to ensure participant safety and support?

The ocean is our venue and it’s a variable that we do our best to prepare for, but anything can happen. We’ve had boats run out of gas on their way to Bimini and break down in the Bahamas, squalls and thunderstorms in the Gulf Stream, and freighters at night coming through the shipping lanes. We host mandatory online safety briefings in advance of the event and in-person captains meetings in Bimini. We do everything in our power to prepare for all potential hazards and circumstances. We are also grateful to have Seacor Island Lines as a partner to help ship over two 40-foot containers full of our event production gear.

Volunteers are vital to The Crossing’s success. How does the community contribute, and what can volunteers expect from their involvement?

Each year we have hundreds of volunteers that participate in Bimini for setup or at the Beach Landing event in Lake Worth Beach, Florida. We do our best to communicate effectively with the volunteers and express our sincere gratitude for their contributions. There are a lot of leadership roles and opportunities with all aspects of production.

Looking to the future, how do you envision the evolution of The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis? Are there new features or expansions planned for upcoming editions?

We are at a point where we are maxing out with participation of 200 paddlers. Bimini is a small island, so we are limited to the number of boat slips and beds for lodging. This event is all about community, so we want to maintain the intimacy and integrity of a world-class experience for everyone. However, I would love to see our registration fill up earlier in the season, which would give our participants more time to train and fundraise, and it would make the entire event and production process smoother.

Leading The Crossing must be both rewarding and challenging. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your involvement, and what advice would you offer to others leading similar advocacy-driven events?

The most rewarding part is being with the community of courageous paddlers and participants that show up year after year and make a big commitment to contribute to something much bigger than all of us. The Crossing experience is like a pilgrimage, family reunion, and epic challenge all wrapped up into one.

For those visiting the local area, what are some must-see attractions or activities you would recommend to fully enjoy the region’s offerings after the race?

In Bimini in the Bahamas, there is so much natural beauty! The water in Bimini is an indescribable spectacular crystal clear blue-green. There are local shipwrecks to snorkel, remote beaches to swim with stingrays, unforgettable spots to watch the sunset, and plenty of incredible free diving, fishing, and paddling. It’s a waterman’s paradise.



For more information:
TotalSUP event-page
Event website

Photos by the courtesy of: PIPER’S ANGELS FOUNDATION

About the Author

Dóra Hegedűs

Dora is a female grandmaster SUP racer who joined the world of paddling in 2019 and quickly developed an irrepressible passion for the sport. Originally from Hungary, Dora now resides in Aarhus, Denmark, and despite her affinity for flat waters, she loves to participate in international races and is dedicated to making SUP racing an inclusive sport for women over 50 - a vibrant age where, as Dora believes, life truly begins to sparkle with fun and excitement. Fluent in Hungarian, English, Italian, French, and (soon) Danish, she is a polyglot. In her professional life, Dora is a business coach and therapist.