Finding a Cure One Paddle at a Time
- by Matthew Brodsky
Those must have been picturesque mornings. Maria Baum, WG’94, pushed off from the shore of Sag Harbor into the bay with her paddle board. The sun rising to her right. The birds waking up and letting everyone within earshot hear. Perhaps even a few sleeping gulls still floating by. Baum stood tall and pushed ahead. She had left her “nirvana job” on Wall Street and moved to the Hamptons to escape the rat race for this kind morning, right? Not exactly. Every morning, she stood tall on her board and cruised around the bay to help her cope with the treatment for breast cancer.
The experience inspired Baum to suggest a new charity event, based around a paddleboard race. She approached her friends Lisa and Richard Perry, W’77. Richard introduced her to paddleboarding in the first place, and the couple signed on to host and co-chair (along with Baum and husband Larry) for what became the inaugural “Hamptons Paddle & Party for Pink” in 2012. The event raised $675,000 for Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), an extraordinary organization founded by Evelyn Lauder, a dream still supported after her death in 2011 by widower Leonard Lauder, W’54, and her family, including sons William, W’83, and Gary, C’84, W’84.
After last year’s success, Baum and the Perrys plan for an even bigger gala this year on August 17. The goal is to raise more than $1 million—through a Hamptons Paddle & Party for Pink auction, through tickets to the party and through sponsorship of paddle board racers. Like last year, this year’s event will launch with a paddleboard race around the bay. Professional boarders will be there; it’s a World Paddle Association sponsored race. But there are also categories for amateur racers and those just looking for a fun “jog” around the course. Laird Hamilton, famous extreme surfer and now paddleboard designer, and his wife, athlete Gabrielle Reece, will be in attendance. Ten signed Laird Hamilton paddle boards— all of which have been designed by world-class members of the fashion world, like J. Crew, Martha Stewart, Ross Bleckner, Tory Burch, C’88, Nicole Miller and Aerin Lauder, C’92—will be auctioned. Other auction packages include a one-week internship on the Credit Suisse trading floor in New York City and power lunches with Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, and Irwin Simon, CEO of Hain Celestial.
Following the race will be the party at the Perrys, fueled by donations from Dom Perignon and music by Tom Curren and DJ Brendan Fallis.
“It’s a fun, fun event,” Baum says. “Usually, this type of crowd may donate, but may not all be present. At our event they all showed up. And they all danced!”
Baum hopes the paddleboard race becomes the premier competition on the East Coast, the party an institution of fundraising on Long Island.
Its success has been the result of Baum, now a successful entrepreneur and investor along with her husband, and her ability to pull together different worlds: Wall Street, the Sag Harbor community and international fashion, as well as the world of Wharton and Penn—Perry and the Lauders—and also classmates Josh Neren, WG’94, and Stacy Bash-Polley, WG’94, of Goldman Sachs, who helped to direct the considerable attention Goldman Sachs gives to the event.
“I am grateful to have so many powerful connections at so many varied institutions who are coming together to support this effort,” she says.
Baum also credits her Wharton knowledge. The School prepared her for her previous Manhattan career as a derivatives trader, but as a cancer fundraiser she is drawing upon everything she learned. Her Wharton sense also helped guide her to BCRF. After her own cancer treatment, she considered launching her own charity. But that would have been akin to launching her own hedge fund—the business side being so complicated and so much money needed for liftoff. Then her business sense kicked in. She did her due diligence and searched for a pure play into research and found BCRF, the only breast cancer charity rated A+ by CharityWatch.org.
Partnered with such a charity and backed by friends, former colleagues and Whartonites, now all Baum has to do is continue to get out there each morning on the water—these days to train for her upcoming race.