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If you see a man on a stand-up paddle board, paddling along the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake this month, it will likely be Tom Jones.
Jones is paddling the 530 mile perimeter of the Lake to promote Internet safety and raise money for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation.
Sheriff Mike Brown started the non-profit organization Safe Surfin’ Foundation more than a decade ago to supplement the law enforcement effort to nab sexual predators who troll the Internet looking for victims. The idea is to teach children and young teens how to avoid becoming a victim. According to Lieutenant Tony Martin, of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, Safe Surfin’ gets no government funds and depends on donations.
Martin said that Virginia became the first state to require public schools to teach Internet safety. Safe Surfin’ wrote the legislation and got it introduced in the General Assembly. Safe Surfin’ has also developed software to teach Internet safety, which it provides free of charge.
According to Martin, there are 1,000 police officers around the country patrolling the Internet, but there are 88 million children on line. That’s why teaching them how to be safe is vital.
Jones will paddle an average of 20 miles a day rain or shine — thunderstorms are the exception — to complete what will be the longest fresh water paddle ever. It’s scheduled to conclude with the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce’s Beach Bash, held at Parkway Marina on Aug. 25.
Jones said that he is “personally vested” in the effort to keep sexual predators away from children. He said that he was taken out of his home at the age of 10 because of the abuse going on there. He ended up in a children’s home which, according to Jones, had pedophiles on staff and he was sexually abused.
When he got involved with Safe Surfin’, Jones had an opportunity to sit with an investigator who went on the Internet pretending to be a 13-year-old. Jones said he was amazed at how little time it took for a predator to initiate a sexually explicit chat with what he thought was a young teen.
Jones’ previous paddles have been on open ocean. He has paddled the length of the both the West Coast and the East Coast. Paddling in a large lake will be different.
“It’s a lot less threatening than I’m used to,” he said. “There are no Great White sharks.”
He’s getting a lot of local support, coming from the Smith Mountain Lake Marine Fire and Rescue, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and area businesses.
Curry Martin, a member of board of directors of the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, helped line up business sponsors. One of these, Spa La La Blue, is providing vital support. Chef Parker Lee, a chef consultant for the spa, is preparing Jones’ meals for the paddle. Jones will burn a great number of calories during his time out on the Lake and requires a special diet. Corinn Christian, a massage therapist with the spa, is providing him with a post paddle massage each day.
“Without these people it’s not possible,” Jones said.
He is also being escorted by Danny Misken on a personal water craft. Misken has escorted Jones on all his paddles and carries water for him. He also tows a floating rescue board which could be used to get Jones back to shore quickly in the case of a medical emergency.
Jones said that stand-up paddle boarding is a sport that is rapidly catching on. It’s suitable for people at all fitness levels. As he was speaking, during a dockside interview, two people on paddle boards glided by in the cove behind him, proving his point.
After his Lake paddle, Jones has another first in mind. He wants to paddle from California to Hawaii.
For more information about Jones and the extremes he goes to in order to raise funds for worthy causes, go to www.tomjonesextreme.com.