Fifteen beach patrols from south Jersey battled underneath grey skies and through choppy waters Friday, July 21, at the 28th annual Atlantic City Lifeguard Classic.
The Margate Beach Patrol won its second consecutive title with a total of 14 points. The Longport Beach Patrol was runner-up with 10 points, and the Atlantic City Beach Patrol was in third place, earning 9 points. The Ocean City Beach Patrol finished fourth, with 8 points.
The competition at the Chelsea Avenue Beach was comprised of four events: a doubles boat race, a half-mile ocean swim, a singles boat race and a doubles rescue race.
Chuck Gowdy, who has 21 years of experience as a lifeguard, was one of the stars of the race, placing first in the singles and doubles boat races.
“I thought it went well,” Gowdy, 34, said about the doubles race. “It was a little choppy out there, and it was tight coming in. We tried to make a little move out there and get ahead, and we were lucky to make a win out of it.”
Gowdy’s rowing partner, Chris Graves, is also a veteran of the MBP with 21 seasons under his belt. He said the conditions were tough on the way out to the flag, but after rowing with Gowdy for more than a decade, “there’s really no surprises.”
“It was hard for us to find a rhythm going out,” Graves said. “We had a really good start, but so did Longport, so did Atlantic City and so did Avalon. It was the four of us out there in the lead, and it kind of carried that way at least until the flag and the turn. It seems like we were fighting with each other, fighting the chops. But once we turned to the flag, we were able to pick up a lot of swells and really make a move coming in.”
The singles boat race was the tightest race of the evening, with the top five competitors finishing within five seconds of each other.
“I was just trying to survive, honestly. I was tired from that doubles row,” Gowdy said. “There are a lot of fast guys in singles, so I knew it was going to be a tight race. … I saw Dave Funk with Ventnor and Vince Granese with Atlantic City. They all had good starts. The three of us kind of jumped out, and I know there were a couple other guys that were behind us.”
Despite the tight finish, Gowdy was focused on trying to “row his race.”
“I’m looking at them, but it really doesn’t change anything,” he said. “I finished my race, caught a little swell at the end there and was lucky enough to pull out a win. That was by no means a clear-cut win on my part.”
Dave Funk, 39, has 26 years of beach patrol experience and took second place in the singles race. The Linwood native has been rowing for the Ventnor Beach Patrol since 1996. It’s a skill, he said, he picked up from his father, who was also a member of the beach patrol.
“My dad was an oarsman, and he was on the beach patrol before me in the ’70s. As a young guard, I was introduced to it and fell in love with it and took every opportunity I could to compete,” Funk said. “All in all, it was a solid row. (I had) a really good start … leading the pack out. I got to the flag about half a boat length ahead of Margate.”
Even after two decades of rowing, Funk said he was still grateful to compete at such a high level.
Despite only five seasons of rowing with the Atlantic City Beach Patrol, 25-year-old Vince Granese took third place and was consistently in the lead pack during the race.
“The conditions, although there were swells, they were pretty good out there. It was pretty much a straight pull,” the 10-year lifeguard veteran said. “We all kind of spread out toward the end because of the different swells, but it was still close race down to the very end.”
Another nail-biting finish was the ocean swim. Although Sea Isle’s Conall Laughlin, 22, snagged first place with a time of 10:57, Margate’s Amber Glenn, the only female competitor at the Classic, was right on his heels, finishing only five seconds behind him.
“On the way out, everybody was with each other. When we narrowed it to the flag I ended up being in third, and I was getting some draft,” Laughlin said. “It’s definitely a confidence boost, and I have momentum I need to go to the rest of these races.”
Despite the close finish, Laughlin and Glenn are amicable competitors. Although Laughlin is now member of Pennsylvania State’s water polo team, he used to swim for the Nittany Lions. Glenn, a former standout at Ocean City High School’s swim team, now swims for Penn State and is heading into her sophomore year with the Nittany lions
“I’m pretty stoked. I got fourth place last year, so it’s nice to go up in the chain,” Glenn, 18, said. “It was a really good race. I was definitely behind in the beginning, but I tried to catch up through the pack. Getting first to the flag was definitely a confidence booster. Conall got me, but that’s okay because he’s definitely a good competitor.”
Ocean City Beach Patrol swimmer Quinn Cassidy took third place and said it was “a very, very tight race.”
“I thought it was a really great race,” Cassidy said. “For a while, we were all together, (but) Amber really kicked it into gear on the way in, and they took a really good course coming in.”
Ocean City earned a first-place finish in the doubles rescue race, an event in which a pair rows out to a flag, unhooks a weighted bag and returns it to the shore. Brothers Shanin and Bryan Thiess said they had never done the rescue race before, but their rowing strategy stayed the same.
“We’ve been rowing together for a long time,” Shanin said. “We haven’t done this race in particular together, but we knew we had to go all the way out, get to the flag and get him to the bag first and come back as fast as we could. That was kind of our game plan, and it worked.”
Bryan Thiess attributed their smooth start as a key piece in their win.
“It’s all about the start because every one of these guys are good,” Bryan said. “You rarely catch boats, and we had a great start. From there, it went exactly as we planned, and that doesn’t happen very often. We are really stoked about it. Anytime you can row with your brother and win and be a part of Ocean City Beach Patrol, you can’t ask for much more.”