Kiteboarders raise thousands for Cancer Society

Maples Kiting for Cancer team members Amy Strzalko, Andre Slabbert, Derek Serpell, Cora schwendtke, Jon Dobbin and Tristan Relly.

A small team of ambitious and charitable kiteboarders who plan to ride the wind from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman as part of the first Maples Kiting for Cancer event have raised $100,000 for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.

The kiteboarders are monitoring the weather and plan to set off on their 100-mile journey as soon as wind conditions are right, sometime in the next couple of weeks. It’s a trek that could take as long as 10 hours, and while such a trip has never been attempted, event organizer Amy Strzalko is confident the team will be successful.

Ms. Strzalko said that after two or three hours of kiteboarding in the open water, boarders are sure to be exhausted and scared, but then, she said, they’ll “start getting emotional” about why they’re doing it.

“You just start thinking how much money we’ve raised and why we’re doing it, and then it just makes you go,” Ms. Strzalko said. “I think the reasons we’re doing it, that will drive everyone.”

Ms. Strzalko, a professional kiteboarder who works as a photographer when she is not in the water, came up with the idea last year to have a kiteboarding event to raise money for charity, and she knew immediately which charity she would like to support.

“Everyone that’s doing it, we’ve all been touched or affected by cancer in some way,” Ms. Strzalko said. “I’ve had a couple friends that I’ve lost in the past couple of years, so that was my first thought, straight away.”

All of the money raised by the event will go directly to the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, and will stay on island, helping struggling local families pay medical bills and other expenses associated with cancer treatments. The cancer society is currently financially supporting 130 patients, according to the organization’s operations manager, Jennifer Weber.

Ms. Weber said she is impressed that the kiteboarders were able to raise such a large amount of money.

“I’m not often speechless, but that is just something that leaves us amazed and stammering for words to describe how grateful we are,” Ms. Weber said.

Ms. Strzalko said she was also “astonished” by the support the cause has received. Eleven corporate sponsors have pledged support: Cayman National Bank, Butterfield, Appleby, EFG Bank, LDM Global, Bliss, Uniregistry, Carey Olsen, PwC, CUC, and title sponsor Maples, which alone donated $15,000.

The team hopes a celebratory event following the ride will raise at least another $10,000 for the cancer society. The celebration dinner, to be held at Morgan’s Harbour, will include a barbecue, raffle and live auction. Several local artists, including Guy Harvey, have painted kiteboards to be auctioned at the event.

When the winds are ready, contributing sponsor Cayman Airways will fly the team members to Little Cayman, where they will set off from South Hole Sound. Compass Marine is assisting with the team’s boats – there will be five support boats in total, to help guide the kiteboarders and assist in case of any emergencies.

“I think we can do the distance,” Ms. Strzalko said. “I think the most challenging part as a team is making sure that every single person is safe, which is what we’re really working on.”
It’s not a race, Ms. Strzalko said, “it’s an absolute team effort.”

“We’re starting as a team and finishing as a team,” she said. In addition to Ms. Strzalko, the team includes Derek Serpell, Jon Dobbin, Tristan Relly, Carlos Barosso, Hope LeVin, Cora Schwendtke, Damo Davis, Jeremy Walton and Andre Slabbert.

Half of the team members will complete the entire 100 miles individually, with no breaks, while the others will complete the distance relay-style.

Ms. Strzalko, who has been kiteboarding for six years, hopes the event will also help raise the profile of the sport in the Cayman Islands and encourage more people here to try it, especially since the islands are frequently recognized as one of the nicest places in the world to kiteboard.

She encourages everyone to give it a shot, and said it’s a great sport for people of all ages and athletic ability.

“If you do kiteboarding and yoga, then that’s all you need to do to stay fit,” Ms. Strzalko said. “But if you want to go kiteboarding, it’s not like going to the gym, you actually want to do it and it’s super addictive. It’s a real release from everything else in your life when you’re doing it.”