Helping the Helpers

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Norman Rest and Debra Kottke_credit Mary Hurlbut
Norman Rest and Debra Kottke, co-founders of Lido Paddle Project | Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna couple Norman Rest and Debra Kottke started Lido Paddle Project to provide a healing experience for veterans and front-line workers.

By Sharon Stello


Norman Rest and Debra Kottke understand the restorative aspect of time spent out on the water, whether gliding across the sea in a kayak or keeping balanced on a stand-up paddleboard, and they wanted to share this healing experience with military veterans and front-line workers who have committed themselves to helping the community through the pandemic.

Rest, who owns Lido Paddle Sports, an equipment rental company located in Newport Beach, already enjoyed paddleboarding with Kottke. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the longtime Laguna Beach couple decided to establish a nonprofit, Lido Paddle Project, to offer these outings—combined with healing modalities like meditation, yoga, sound therapy and more—to local first responders and veterans. The organization began hosting sessions in July and held its first fundraiser this March, garnering nearly $30,000 for the program.

Participants can choose to kayak or SUP alone or with colleagues or family members, and either be joined by a Lido Paddle Project harbor tour leader or receive a brief tutorial and venture out unguided. Sessions can run from 60 to 90 minutes for simple recreation time to two or three hours, if other healing aspects are added. For those seeking to go deeper, a therapist can accompany veterans and first responders for a guided meditation on the water followed by other treatments back on shore for a half- or full-day program. Sessions mostly take place in the Newport Beach and Dana Point harbors, but an open ocean option recently started launching from Laguna Beach, led by local Rich German, an avid paddleboarder and photographer.

Here, Rest and Kottke share their inspiration behind offering such transformative experiences. Rest is also a local home builder in OC and beyond, while Kottke works as an independent court deposition reporter and is also an avid hiker, summiting peaks including Mount Kilimanjaro, but this new philanthropic project is a shared passion.


Lido Paddle Project founders_credit Tony Lattimore
Kottke and Rest speaking at a local charity event for Lido Paddle Project | Photo by Tony Lattimore

Why did you want to establish Lido Paddle Project?

Norman Rest: The moment I first considered starting the project was watching local news interviewing hospital staff working 12-plus-hour shifts in full PPE—[personal protective equipment]—and dealing with the stress and sheer magnitude of their task at hand, and I just thought of the restorative benefits I know that come … from a paddle [outing] and … I wanted to share the peace and balance I learned to feel with more people—especially those being most tolled by the pandemic.
Debra Kottke: [With] Lido Paddle Sports’ proximity to Hoag Hospital [Newport Beach], we began outreach first to the hospital to invite their front-line workers to come take a break on the water to ease the tensions of their jobs and the new situation in which they found themselves—overworked, exhausting and in need of a recharge.


Who do you partner with to provide these therapies?

DK: We have two lead therapists on our board of directors, Heather Gail George and Brooke Bergman Parr. They oversee and execute the programming. In addition, we have more than 20 volunteers on board to help with larger groups. As far as partnerships, we have been working with Pacific Marine Mammal Center … [to potentially take part in its] fabulous … program [called Sea Lions for Service Members]. We are also excited to be working with Doug Freeman, of OC Music & Dance, in a new alliance with other nonprofits … [that] offer different therapies to our protectors. Together, we can present a menu of options throughout Orange County for our everyday heroes.


Lucas Heydorft NB LG-no credit needed
Lido Paddle Project invites veterans and front-line workers to SUP or kayak solo, or with colleagues or family members.

What do you enjoy about SUP that you are now sharing with others?

DK: I love everything about paddleboarding. I love that I can go on the water and breathe fresh air and get exercise, first and foremost. I love that I can go alone and think and problem-solve and plan, or not think at all. … I’ve boarded on lakes, harbors and oceans and they all have their variations. … Ocean paddling has a more challenging entrance and exit, and I always feel very accomplished when I do it gracefully.


In what ways do these types of experiences help veterans and first responders?

NR: Being by the water in itself is healing. What motivated me was the concept of play—play heals. We are serving folks who have witnessed trauma, death and destruction. Play is considered a therapy as it reminds us of who we are. It lightens mental burdens. On top of the fun aspect is the organic mindfulness involved in SUP: It forces us to balance. If you do not pay attention, you may find yourself in the water.



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