a group of people standing in the water with kayaks
Many familiar faces from 2023’s ‘Ridiculous Stunt Tour’ will again paddle more than 160 miles starting Saturday. CONTRIBUTED

Saturday, June 8 will mark the 25th time a team of 13 paddlers push off from shore in Miami for one of the most daunting 170-mile treks imaginable. They’ll square off against hordes of mosquitoes, miles of open water, a brutal sun, and ever-changing wind and weather conditions that can either aid them or thwart them at every turn.

But this year, on the shoulders of $2.3 million in fundraising and more than 3,840 miles paddled, the Castaways Against Cancer will do so starting from a beach they can call their own.

This year’s “Here Comes the Sun Tour” will once again send teams of kayakers, runners and cyclists from Miami’s Virginia Key to Simonton Beach in Key West as part of a never-ending fight to raise funds to combat cancer while honoring and celebrating those who have fought the battle before, regardless of the outcome.

here comes the sun festival logo

Three months ago, the group heard their praises sung in the chambers of the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners, who on March 19 unanimously approved the official naming of the team’s launch site on Hobie Beach as “Castaways Against Cancer Beach.”

In 2022, the group inked a five-year, $1.5 million pledge to the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, with U.M. matching donations 50 cents on the dollar. They’re more than on track for this year, with donations already totaling roughly $260,000 and still climbing. Donations from the Here Comes the Sun Tour will go to support ongoing research for pediatric Ewing sarcoma, a metastatic bone and soft tissue cancer that ranks as the second most prevalent malignant bone tumor, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

“I paddle and lead the Castaways because I am inspired by hope and I know what we’re doing is making a difference,” said founder Steve O’Brien. Along with three others whose lives had felt cancer’s cruel touch, the high school teacher completed the first Castaways trek in June 2000 after losing both his mother and grandmother in a seven-month stretch. “The possibility of success, the potential for better treatments, and the opportunity to engage people affected by cancer is our motivation. I hope that our work uplifts people, inspires others, resonates with all who hear our stories and watch us in action.”

The battle against the world’s most insidious disease also hits home for Marathon paddling legend, breast cancer survivor and longtime Castaways stalwart Suzy Curry. Though injuries will prevent her from making the complete paddle with the team this year, she’s in the middle of completing a “Golden Oldies Triathlon” at her own pace: traversing the length of the Keys three times on foot, in a kayak and on a bike.

“The problem with children’s cancers is that children are such a small population of the ones who get cancer, so the research isn’t there,” she said. “It’s not like breast cancer, which affects one in eight women. The money isn’t there, because it’s not a big population. It’s really sad, especially when you tell that to a parent. We’re shooting for $300,000, so it then becomes a $450,000 grant.”

The public is invited to welcome the Castaways paddlers, runners and cyclists as they arrive at Simonton Street Beach at 4, 4:15 and 4:30 p.m., respectively, on Friday, June 14. To learn more about the Castaways’ mission, make a pledge, or add the name of a loved one who has battled cancer to the team’s Honor List, visit castawaysagainstcancer.org.

Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.