When arriving at the shoreline at Beach 86th St. on June 24, it was impossible to miss the crowd of beachgoers in navy and gray t-shirts enjoying each other’s company under a beige tent.
The massive group was there for the annual Paddle Out for Dylan Smith, an event taking place since 2013. Smith, a Belle Harbor native and avid surfer, diver, and lifeguard, was regarded as one of the area’s kindest members, but also for saving six lives during Hurricane Sandy. Smith, naturally, used his surfboard to help those trapped within their houses reach safety.
Smith tragically passed away a few months after Hurricane Sandy while on a surfing trip in Puerto Rico. Since then, Smith’s loved ones have held the Paddle Out in his memory, and the support given by the surrounding community has been a testament to how beloved Smith was as a person.
“Every year, we don’t know what to expect, and it’s more people every year,” Dylan’s mother, Mary Smith, said. “It’s amazing. This community is just so supportive of everybody. It’s a great thing, great people, and great community. They all come. No matter what the weather is, and we just happened to luck out this year.”
At this year’s Paddle Out, which was rightfully marked by clear blue skies and the sun shining, over 20 surfers made their way out offshore to mark the occasion. After wading through the waves, the surfers all joined hands together in a circle in the water and a meaningful ambiance took over a section of the usually busy Rockaway beach. As the initial rush of photos and videos faded, family and friends of Smith and other onlookers simply locked arms and looked over the water as the tribute was being paid.
Groups of lifeguards looked on, too, as the Smith family purposely waits until after 6 p.m. so the lifeguards can come and watch after their shifts.
Soon after, the surfers threw a slew of red and white roses into the middle of the circle and began splashing, which was met by a loud cheer from the crowd on the beach. Everyone then had the opportunity to throw their roses into the ocean as well for remembrance.
All proceeds from the event went to FACES (Finding a Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures).
“It means a lot to us, my son had epilepsy,” Mary said. “It means a lot to find a cure. It ruined his life as a young man getting it at 19 so we wanted to contribute to finding a cure.”
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