Pittsburgh’s Paddle at the Point

Christine O’Toole is a feature and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA and she participated this past weekend in Paddle at the Point, a Guinness World Record attempt to form the biggest raft of paddlers ever. Paddle at the Point was organized by Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit that promotes outdoor recreation in the Pittsburgh region. Here’s O’Toole’s firsthand account of the event:

“We’ve got 500 kayaks on the Mon! We’ve got 500 more past the bridge! We’ve already got 500 of you right here!” Jon Lucadamo, the Paddle at the Point event organizer, shouted into his bullhorn. “This is going to be CRAZY!”

As blue anvil clouds lowered over downtown Pittsburgh Saturday, nearly 2,000 deranged volunteers, including me, were about to launch an attempt to break a world record for the biggest “raft” of paddlers ever, at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. And it sounds like we did it — celebrating the city’s handsomely reclaimed waterfront and United Nations World Environment Day. The ‘Burgh served as the North American host city for the UN event, which concluded on Saturday.

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The vibe in our flotilla of canoes and kayaks was a cross between a backyard barbecue and a waterlogged rave.  Beach balls bounced overhead, dogs barked, and blasts of music — from waterborne trumpets and even a wooden recorder — echoed.  Grabbing hands and gunwales, we created a raft off Pittsburgh’s Point State Park, hanging together for the thirty seconds required for an official attempt for the Guinness Book of World Records.  And while the verdict won’t be delivered for a few months, it looked like we swamped the old record of 1,104 set in Inlet, New York.  As we turned our paddles vertically to salute the effort in Viking style, sheets of rain descended, and we powered towards shelter.  Like the man said: crazy.

Update: here’s the entire event condensed into a 1-minute video.

Photos: Above, Mike Vindler, via Outdoor Ventures; Below, Martha Rial/The Heinz Endowments

Christine OToole has written about the ‘Burgh for the New York Times and the Washington Post.
More Intelligent Travel posts about Pittsburgh:
I Heart My City: Lindsay’s Pittsburgh
Andy Carroll’s “Here Is Where” project
Funky Brunch in PIttsburgh