SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — “See you on the other side!”

As Virginia native Ryan Caruso began the first strokes of his journey into the Gulf of Mexico, he could not help but let out an exclamation for everyone around to hear.

He was nervous about his two-month trip at sea, but nerves are a given. More than anything else, he was excited.

“You’ve got to stay strong and do what you can (every day),” he said before his departure.

Caruso traveled down to South Padre Island this week to attempt a trip to Florida. He is not accompanied by anyone else. It is just him, his books, his supplies and a trusty GPS.

Caruso is doing this adventure to raise money for a charity, Operation Smile, in his hometown of Virginia Beach.

The organization offers free life-changing surgeries to children all around the world. Caruso took the pledge to advocate about safe surgery for all children as part of Operation Smile’s “Until We Heal” campaign.

This would not be the first adventure Caruso has had. He has kayaked hundreds of miles from Virginia to Tennessee and has climbed Chimborazo, a mountain taller than Mt. Everest.

Caruso is inspired by people like Braam Malherbe, who ran the entire length of the Great Wall of China despite professionals saying it was physically impossible. Malherbe also raised money for Operation Smile.

“I think there’s an intrinsic value in adventure. Everyone knows the story of climbing Everest, so I think by capitalizing on something like that, you can motivate people to be a part of your journey without being there and being part of something bigger than themselves,” Caruso said.

Galveston is Caruso’s first major stop. It is 650 miles away from South Padre Island, and if Caruso is able to travel 30 miles per day like he planned, it would take about 21 days to reach.

“It’s ambitious, but we’ll figure out how that works. To Galveston, it’s 650 miles. To New Orleans, it’s 750. And to Panama City, it’s about 1,100,” Caruso said. “As I get closer, I’ll decide whether to go further down into the keys.”

Mainly, he will kayak through the Gulf of Mexico, but his route will take him through all bodies of water.

Weather is always a concern, but on Saturday afternoon the 25 mph winds were hitting his back, a good sign.

Caruso has planned the trip for nearly one year. He has his essentials: a sponge and pump in case his kayak flips over, a tent and hammock for when he camps out, 90 pounds of water, food, GPS and a cell phone.

Every 10 minutes, his GPS will send out a signal, allowing people to follow his adventure online. Supporters can donate at

“Adventure is out there. That’s what we read about and see in the movies. Anything you want to do is possible. People will always tell you that you can’t, but go get it. As long as you enjoy doing it, that’s all that matters,” Caruso said.

By FRANK GARZA Staff Writer