The Margate Beach Patrol has a different lineup and game plan this year, and so far that’s been one of the biggest stories of the lifeguard competition season.
Margate won the Atlantic City Lifeguard Classic and the Dutch Hoffman Memorial Lifeguard Races in Wildwood last week with enough points in the rows and swim.
Margate will try to continue that success today on its home beach at the 67th annual Margate Beach Patrol World War II Memorial Lifeguard Races. The three-race event begins at 6:30 p.m. at Decatur Avenue beach, in front of Lucy the Elephant.
Chuck Gowdy led Margate at the A.C. Classic with a win in the singles row, and at the Hoffman Memorials with second-place finish. The crew of Chris Graves and Bob Bechtel was fourth in Atlantic City and third in Wildwood, while swimmer Pat Flynn placed fourth in both events.
“At Wildwood, we had a well-rounded effort,” said Margate Beach Patrol Capt. Mike Cincotta. “Chuck was only one second behind and the doubles crew was close, too. Pat Flynn is doing a great job.
The races today are the mile doubles row, the half-mile swim and the 1,000-foot singles row, the traditional three of the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association. All 15 patrols in the Association will be there. Scoring is 5-4-3-2-1 for the first five places.
“The rules and regulations (of the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association) stipulate that you set up a race course with time, not distance,” Margate Beach Patrol Chief Rich Kugel said. “The official distances are an approximation.”
“We want the doubles to be a 14- to 16-minute row, the swim to be 12 to 14 minutes, and the singles to be 4 to 6 minutes. I think so far most of the races have been short, but ours will definitely be longer to show the endurance from the guys. Any athlete in good shape, it will help them to pull away.”
Margate won the team championship of its home event last year as Ashton Funk and Gowdy won the doubles row and Funk returned to take the singles row. Flynn, then a rookie, failed to finish in the top five of the swim.
“Last year was unusual,” Cincotta said. “Normally you have to score in all three (to win the team title). It’s tough competition but we’ve been right there. Hopefully we’re peaking at the right time. They should be great races.”
Graves and Bechtel won the four-mile Hammer Row in late August last summer, but this is their first full season as a crew. Graves, a patrol lieutenant, is the grandson of the late Bud Graves, who founded the World War II Memorials in 1946 with Pete Glick to honor lifeguards who served in that war. Chris Graves won the Margate Memorials doubles row in 2005 and 2008 with then-partner Greg Smallwood.
“We’re having a good season and there’s a lot of pressure, but having a good swimmer takes a lot of pressure off me and Bob and Chuck,” said Graves, 30, a Northfield resident. “It gave us (Graves and Bechtel) confidence to win the Margate (patrol doubles) row-off (beating Funk and Gowdy). Hopefully, we’re peaking for the Margates and the South Jersey’s (next Friday in Ocean City).
Avalon’s Erich Wolf and Craig Whitehead won the doubles at the Atlantic City Classic, but Cape May’s Chris Vittese and Anthony Onimus pulled an upset victory at the Hoffman Memorials. Longport’s Mike McGrath and Sean Duffey were second in both races.
In the swim, North Wildwood’s Sean Regan won at Atlantic City and Stone Harbor’s Devin McCall took the Hoffman race. Both are rookie lifeguards. Defending Margate Memorials champion Blake Trabuchi-Downey was second at Atlantic City, but Longport’s Bobby Ballance was third in Wildwood.
Wolf was second to Gowdy in the singles row at the A.C. Classic, and Ventnor’s David Funk, Ashton’s brother, took third. Atlantic City’s Jim Smith was a surprise winner of the Hoffman singles race.
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