Castaways Against Cancer



Raising funds for cancer research takes many forms, from walk-a-thons to shopping events, all in the interest of creating experiences to raise money. But what about kayaking?

Enter Castaways Against Cancer, an organization consisting of a “rag-tag group of sea-hippie friends”, as described on their website,, who embark on an annual kayak trip from Miami to Key West, to raise money for cancer research and honor those who have been diagnosed with cancer.

The project was started in 1999 by Steve O’Brien, a teacher at Columbus High school in Miami, who lost his mother and grandmother to cancer within six months of each other. He began kayaking. O’Brien combined his passion for kayaking with his desire to help families facing a cancer diagnosis. He conceived up the idea of kayaking from Miami to Key West- a long and challenging journey that could help raise money for a worthy cause. In the summer of 2000, four guys in two kayaks went from Miami to Key West, raising about $10,000, and thus, the Castaways Against Cancer was born.

Two group members, Captain Eric Pino, and Co-Founder Patrick Linfors, detailed what it means to be a Castaway, how they honor those that they paddle for, and how effective their work is. When asked about the logistics of the trip, Linfors explained, “We have a daily destination, averaging about 25 miles and 10 hours on the water each day. We camp the first night, then have hotel destinations and supporters that we hit each day of the trip.” After years of perfecting their method of travel, Castaways Against Cancer launched their 22nd year on Saturday, June 19th, 2021!

So, why kayaking? Pino and Linfors explained the connection between their team’s message and paddling, “Yes it’s a physical challenge, you’re propelling yourself on the open water, in the Keys, especially in June, you’re dealing with the current, you’re dealing with wind, it’s a physical challenge. But really, more than anything, it’s a mental challenge. It’s that repetitive motion, all day long. The original vision, was while kayaking can never ever be truly compared to what cancer patients go through, there are some similarities to what they experience.” Pino and Linfors explain that it takes a while for the Castaways to complete their trip, it is a very isolating experience, but you go through it with a team of people around you. In this way, those that participate in the trip are able to commit to a physically and mentally straining experience, while simultaneously pushing for those that are also going through a strenuous battle.

In order to fund cancer research, those that participate gather support on their own, while the group as a whole also comes together and receives support from different outlets, mainly through social media and community support. Through their mission, the Castaways paddle to raise money for cancer research, while also honoring those who have fought the fight.

The Castaways pay tribute to those that they paddle for by including their names on a banner. Their most recent banner, with over a thousand people, also get their names added to the website. By simply donating a dollar to pay tribute to someone, their name is added to the banner and they are honored through the Castaways’ paddling and ceremony. When they arrive in Key West, there is a flower ceremony at sunset in which the paddlers, cyclists and supporters meet at the beach and speak about why they paddle, cycle or support, and then walk to the water and throw flowers into the ocean in honor of those people.

As they reach their 22nd year, the Castaways proudly report a huge increase in the amount raised to fund cancer research. Last year, with 610 donors, they raised $98,000. This year, their highest fundraising year on record, they are approaching $150,000! They are about to reach 1,000 donors, 1,000 different people behind the Castaways Against Cancer team, all with personal stories, all fighting for the same cause.

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