Paddling for Wounded Warriors

Friends and family watch from the Paradiso as Will Schmidt paddles off the coast of Newport Beach on Wednesday, July 23. Schmidt is paddling from Canada to Mexico to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. (SCOTT SMELTZER / Daily Pilot / July 23, 2014)

"There he is!"

"You're the man!"

"Welcome to Newport Beach!"

Friends, family and other supporters cheered, whistled and waved at 34-year-old Will Schmidt, who is finishing a possible record-setting attempt to stand-up paddleboard solo down the Pacific Coast, as he pulled up to chartered yacht Paradiso in Newport Harbor on Wednesday.

Schmidt, of Laguna Niguel, started his paddleboard journey at the Canadian border more than a month ago and hopes to complete very soon the 1,400 miles to Mexico to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization. Having served as a U.S. Marine, Schmidt is a survivor of debilitating depression and an advocate for other military men and women.

"He's a leader and an inspiration for anybody," said paddleboarder Giles Finlayson, who came out Wednesday morning to cheer on Schmidt.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what this guy is doing," said supporter Pamela Strom.

"He touches a lot of lives and he touched mine," said Greg Beckler, who organized a paddle to raise funds for his daughter, Raelyn, who was diagnosed with leukemia. Beckler met Schmidt in the paddleboarding community and they became friends. When Schmidt learned of Beckler's cause, he wanted to help.

"He would ask me, 'What do you need?'" said Beckler.

On this day, Beckler — joined by his wife, daughter and son — was there on the yacht to cheer on his friend.

"Superman does this kind of stuff," Beckler whispered to Raelyn as they waved to Schmidt.

Newport Beach resident and fellow paddleboarder Omar Simsek said he admired Schmidt for embarking on such a journey and arranged for a couple dozen supporters to go to Blue Water Marina to board the chartered boat, from which they could watch Schmidt as he paddled into Newport from Huntington Beach.

"We're all about the water and cause," Simsek said. "This is a community coming out to support Will, and we're all friends and family here."

Once Simsek reached out to Paradiso Yacht Charters, Capt. John Pringle wanted to get involved immediately.

"When Omar told us what was happening, we wanted to participate," Pringle said. "I'm a former Marine and I really wanted to help."

Schmidt, who completed his 55th day of paddling, expects to finish the trip in 58 days — 61 if you count the three days off water because of a toe injury and foul weather.

It has been, to say the least, an epic ride for Schmidt.

He has lost fingernails, grown a beard and bronzed his feet.

He didn't see people for 100 miles while paddling near Big Sur, but he did see whales, sea lions and dolphins splash around him.

He saw a shark, but after one look at each other, the shark took off.