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At 47, he decided to change his life. Now, Adam Nagler is paddleboarding 630 miles solo to Nantucket.

Adam Nagler arrived in West Hampton Dunes, N.Y., on July 14. He was greeted by a crew of friends who shared beer and Italian food before Nagler took off again. His destination is Brant Point Lighthouse in Nantucket Harbor, and he expects to reach it by the end of this week.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

WEST HAMPTON DUNES, N.Y. — The tiny dot on the horizon slowly gets bigger and bigger.

Eventually, the scruffy salt-and-pepper-bearded man lifts his oar in triumph and flashes a grin. He’s made it this far.

Adam Nagler, 55, is an ultra-endurance athlete on a mission to paddle from Cape Hatteras Light on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Brant Point Lighthouse in Nantucket Harbor — a distance of 630 miles — all by himself. The goal is to raise money for Fairwinds, the only nonprofit mental health center on Nantucket.

But there’s another reason.

“We chose to do this,” he says in his best John F. Kennedy accent, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”


And it is. Nagler is paddleboarding solo on a used 14-foot board cluttered with survival gear that weighs 225 pounds fully loaded. On his body, he wears a 35-pound search-and-rescue vest with safety equipment and a hydration pack.

Kyle Collins, a town planner in Westhampton Beach, has been friends with Nagler since they did a Semester at Sea 35 years ago — 11 countries in 100 days.

“He’s a good guy, a little eccentric, and very athletic,” says Collins.

But he worries about Nagler’s insistence to always up the ante.

Although Nagler is safely harnessed to his paddleboard, there is no support boat. The ocean sets the rules.

On past trips, Collins served as safety officer to assist him from afar.

Last year, Nagler completed a shorter journey from Cape Charles Light on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia to Nantucket. He raised $75,000, lost 37 pounds in 24 days, and suffered from a painful muscle tear, swollen feet, and cellulitis.

Adam Nagler is greeted by longtime friend Kyle Collins after the longest leg of his journey from Cape Hatteras to Nantucket.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“He’s [expletive] crazy,” Collins says with a laugh. “You keep pushing the envelope, at some point the envelope [expletive] breaks.”


Collins declined to be safety officer this year.

Today’s segment was the longest crossing of Nagler’s life.

He paddled 110 miles from Island Beach State Park in New Jersey, near Barnegat Inlet on the Jersey shore, and across the open sea and New York City shipping lanes to West Hampton Dunes, a tiny village in Southampton. Nagler says it is the equivalent of 5½ laps of the English Channel. The journey took more than 55 hours.

Last year, when he was crossing the shipping lanes near the city, Nagler tore a muscle in his buttock, and was screaming in pain. But he refused to push the emergency response button that would summon help.

This time, when his friends wade out to help him beach the board — to rest, repair, and resupply for the last segments — he is all smiles.

“I feel pretty good,” Nagler says.

He takes a swig of an orange drink and pours the rest over his head. The group adjourns to Collins’s beach house to get a cold beer and some Italian food, which is the real treat.

Adam Nagler relies on electrolyte powder and warm water while out on the ocean.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Nagler’s only source of nourishment on the board is a liquid diet — electrolyte powder and some warm water. He can only consume what he carries on his board.

To expend less energy and carry fewer supplies, Nagler is paddling mostly at night. He prepared for this year’s journey by eating Chanko Nabe — like a sumo wrestler looking to gain weight — and added 12 pounds before the journey began. He’s lost 24 pounds by the time he reaches the shore on Long Island.


Nagler’s trip this summer began on June 22. He didn’t get far.

Adam Nagler dries out his gear after arriving at his buddy's house on Long Island. Fully loaded, his board weighs 225 pounds.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“Launching in a beach break in Hatteras was nasty,” he says. His board slammed into his leg, and a whole section of his shin was cut open. He had to disembark and go to urgent care in Virginia Beach.

Two weeks later, Nagler wiped out again at a beach break off the Jersey shore.

“I wasn’t patient,” he says, “My board got smashed and my fin got ripped off ... Everything broke.”

Nagler has learned from some of his mistakes. He knows better when to come ashore, opting for safe harbor such as Collins’s beach house. Last year, he chose a strip of wild coast off Virginia.

“I thought it was a sandbar. But it wasn’t,” he said. “It was oysters as far as I can see.”

The shells sliced up his feet, and cellulitis, a bacterial infection, set in. He had to be hospitalized in Delaware.

“So now I’ve learned that lesson,” he said. “And I always have booties with me.”

But nothing could prepare him for what happened in those dangerous New York shipping lanes.

“I am going to celebrate not getting run over by that tanker I fell asleep next to last night,” he tells his friends when he’s on shore in the Hamptons.

Adam Nagler paddled 110 miles over 55 hours to get from the Jersey shore to the Hamptons.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

You see, it was 2 a.m. and Nagler was about 30 or 40 miles outside of New York Harbor. There are six shipping lanes, and roughly 25 to 30 tankers and container ships milling about.


Nagler was “zonked” from sleep deprivation. And that’s when he made a mistake.

“I read the chart wrong by one line, and I was in the outside quarter-mile of the last lane,” he said. “I’d made it through all the lanes and put out my sea anchor.”

Yes, Nagler sleeps on the water. He sets up two 30-inch fenders and dozes in a kayak seat — but never more than 15 minutes at a time. He claims he can even paddle while taking a cat nap (”It’s muscle memory”).

On this night, he drifts off peacefully. Then he hears a low groan.

“Holy [expletive],” he thinks. “I’m an idiot. I must still be in the shipping lane.”

He quickly hops on Channel 16, the radio frequency used for international distress. No one answers.

A 750-foot tanker was two football fields away and closing in. That’s when the adrenaline kicked in.

Nagler scrambled, packed up his gear, and paddled for half a mile — like his life depended on it, because it did.

“I got kind of lucky,” he says after the fact. “It was just a mistake that can kill you.”

An exhausted Adam Nagler arrives on Long Island. He paddles mostly at night to conserve energy and food, and has already lost 24 pounds since taking off on June 22.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Nagler is fortunate to be alive after that close encounter. But that’s not the only time he felt that way.

Nagler, who grew up on the Upper East Side and now lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., was very sick in 2009 and 2010. He had a rare heart infection. Bacteria were eating his valves and he underwent open-heart surgery.


“For a lot of years, I was fat, smoking, sitting at a desk,” he says.

On New Year’s Day in 2014, he woke up and looked in the mirror.

“Unless you do something, you’re going to die young,” was the message he heard.

He started training at the age of 47, logging 55,000 miles of paddling, swimming, cycling, and running. All in the name of finding out where his “outside limit” might be.

But he also wanted to help his friends on Nantucket, who are pained by out-of-control housing costs and the claustrophobia and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are strong people breaking down,” he says.

He can relate. In 2001, Nagler suffered from depression, triggered by the World Trade Center attacks and the nastiness of business deals gone bad.

Now, he lives by one of his life philosophies: “Set completely unrealistic goals and fly by them like they are standing still.”

It’s hard for some people to believe.

Nagler's rig can be a bit confusing for local law enforcement. He's been forced off the water before.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

During his journey last year, he had some trouble with the marine police who were puzzled by his cluttered paddleboard.

Nagler had just passed a Coast Guard inspection near Hempstead, Long Island, when a marine constable approached and ordered him to return to port until daylight.

“We’re going to have to commandeer your vessel,” the constable said. “You’re not going to die on my watch. You’re coming in.”

A pricey hotel bill was out of his budget, so Nagler asked if he could sleep in a cell for five hours. The request was denied.

“What do I have to do to get arrested?” he asked.

This year, though, has been less of an issue.

“I’ve gotten better at talking to them,” Nagler says.

The view from Adam Nagler's 14-foot paddleboard amid heavy seas in Barnegat Inlet, N.J.Courtesy/Adam Nagler

Another thing that doesn’t concern Nagler? Sharks.

The day before he arrived on Long Island, a paddleboarder was bitten. It was big news.

In fact, Nagler had just seen one off Cape May, its fin shining in the moonlight.

“It was perfectly framed, like a movie poster,” Nagler recalls. “And I laughed. I was like, ‘OK, Spielberg, and that’s a cut.’ ”

Nagler says he’s seen plenty.

“Do they bother me? Not especially. Do I think about them? Only when I’m paddling through a seal colony.”

Nagler expects to complete his 630-mile journey and arrive on Nantucket on July 22. Then, he will continue on a 250-mile victory lap to greet donors on the way back to Long Island.

When he does, he will tell them about the friendly sea turtle that didn’t dive when Nagler approached. He’ll tell them of the wrasse fish, lost from the gulf stream, straight out of “Finding Nemo,” that swam alongside him for three hours.

And he’ll tell them why “embracing the suck” is one of his favorite sayings.

Because it means you should stop complaining.

Nagler, closer to the end of his journey than the beginning, says he’s still happy even if he’s in the fog, cold, and wet, with winds pushing him the wrong way.

But most of all, he’s at peace.

“Afraid of dying? Well, first of all, when I’m out there, I never feel more alive,” he says. “You’re taking it all in the magnificence of every bit of environment that’s out there, and all the things that are happening are completely alive.”

Adam Nagler expects to land on Nantucket later this week.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

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