Fighting Cancer Through Adventure
By: Jack Marshall Shimko

Cancer and adventure are not typically used in the same sentence. However, I speak those two words and live them both every day of my life. For me adventure is something that cancer can’t take away. It will try and try but I will find a path to get out there and continue to adventure no matter what cancer throws at me.

My name is Jack Marshall Shimko, and I am a longtime endurance paddler, ocean enthusiast, cancer survivor and I am currently fighting cancer again. I am also the founder of We Are Ocean.

The primary mission of Newport Aquatic Center’s “We Are Ocean” cancer program is to provide ocean-based, transformational adventures for teens and young adults (15-39) fighting and surviving cancer. The program focuses on bringing intimate groups of cancer fighters and survivors together in coastal wilderness environments while providing opportunities for connection, self-discovery, empowerment, support, and most importantly—adventure.

Jack Shimko and We Are Ocean Cancer Survivors paddling the Catalina Channel

The Puakea Designs Wild Buffalo Relay 2024
In a continued effort to throw cancer overboard and sink it to the ocean’s floor, I was fortunate enough to co-lead a team of cancer fighters in the 32-mile Wild Buffalo Relay from Catalina Island to the Newport Aquatic Center last April. Team NAC / WAO was comprised of cancer fighters along with accomplished NAC support paddlers and first responders, active-duty military and veterans from the amazing OpenWater organization.

This adventure was full of challenges; selecting the team, training together, finding the right support boats, figuring out the logistics for 19 people and the list goes on...None of this would have been possible without the support and guidance of Billy Whitford and Kel Thompson. Billy is the NAC Executive Director and Kel is the NAC Manager and Wild Buffalo Race Director.

Jack Shimko and We Are Ocean Cancer Survivors paddling the Catalina Channel

Field Notes
(33.3428° N, 118.3282° W - 33.6189° N, 117.9298° W) 
Conditions were rough on the ferry over to the Island and the team was feeling a mixture of excitement, anticipation, nausea and uncertainty. Conditions cleaned up the morning of the race and our team launched at 8am sharp in favorable winds and a chilly 48-degree sea surface temp. Due to cold ocean temps all teams did “dry changes” every 30 minutes. This strategy proved successful by providing ample time to rest, hydrate and put on the cheerleading hat for our fellow team members while it was their turn to paddle. 13 dry changes later we crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 46 minutes, beating our previous personal record of 5:58 set in 2023. Our team gear worked great, especially the Off Grid Fleece Half Zip which provided much needed warmth but also its athletic fit allows you to paddle comfortably in it.

Not only did we achieve our goal of completing the Wild Buffalo for a second year in a row, but we also showed cancer that we are done sitting on the sidelines and it can’t take away our spirit of adventure.

Learn More about We Are Ocean.

Donate to We Are Ocean.

Florence Gear Used by Jack Shimko and We Are Ocean Cancer Survivors paddling the Catalina Channel

Team Gear Tested
Airtex Long Sleeve Shirt
F1 Burgee Cordura® Boardshort
Off Grid Fleece Half Zip

*Florence Test Pilots Kane Cassidy & Jack Marshall Shimko also tested the:
Pertex Quantum Puffer
Long Sleeve Hooded Rashguard



  • Laura Ricker

    Jack is making a difference, changing lives, supporting adventures for those with cancer, opening the door to hearts and minds, refreshing perspectives, energizing the community, growing a movement, seeking to break the glass, full of sincere determination, propelled by his own longevity, inspired by life and hardship, walking the walk, talking the talk, doing the work, connecting neighbors, introducing families, inspiring survivors, sharing the dream, living the dream, pushing the boundaries, building the framework, collaborating with peers, leading the charge, sharing responsibility, driving change, striving to make a mark, collaborating with vendors, promoting sponsors, and thriving for one purpose beyond family – to create a long lasting inspired program called We Are Ocean to support cancer patients and survivors during their journey with cancer – long past his and our passings. He is an inspiration and an individual I’m proud to call my friend, proud to be part of the WAO program, proud to have paddled the Wild Buffalo Relay the past two years with him, proud of the relationships and efforts of everyone I have experienced throughout these adventures I’ve met through Jack. He is a wonder, and we should all be so lucky to cross paths with him and hope that an ounce of his love for life and energy wipes off on us and sticks. I sure am. Love you big time.

  • Sally Marshall

    Wow! this is so great.
    It’s been so inspirational to watch this evolve from day one 2009, when it was just a dream in the chemo ward. Your hard work has helped so many cancer warriors make it past the difficulties they face after their battle.
    Your determination to stick with this so long even when your battling this terrible disease, twice, is so selfless and shows how dedicated you are to keeping this program alive.
    I could not be my proud!
    My famous line is “I would be blessed to know someone like you, but having you as a son is a different level of awesome”!
    You have my support forever!
    WAO Mom, Sally

  • Kathy Colao

    I am proud to support the We are Ocean program. This program has brought fun, adventure and most importantly hope for cancer fighters. Jack has nurtured and developed this program to where it stands today, but more importantly continues to work endlessly despite his own fight with cancer to bring hope and adventure to others. Jack is a generous and kind soul who has used this opportunity to help others live and experience life. We are Ocean is a program where you actually see concrete results for their participants, please support this life changing program.

  • Ashley Nichols

    The beauty of the wild buffalo relay, and what it means for the cancer survivors comes through in your story Jack! Thank you for making this possible for us. This WAO community is unlike any other!

  • Rob Colby

    Jack is changing lives for the better. He’s a saint and I love his vision.

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