The fun, excitement and variety of South Jersey lifeguard racing gets into full swing in less than two weeks. Rival beach patrols will compete in various disciplines, such as swimming, rowing, running and paddleboarding.
On one hand, it's serious racing among collegiate-level athletes who understand intensity, focus and conditioning. But the beach atmosphere gives it a happier mindset, and the crowds always enjoy it.
Competitions will be held throughout the summer on beaches from Long Beach Island to Cape May Point. The prime of the lifeguard racing season is from mid-July through mid-August, and there'll sometimes be two events on the same day.
"It's always exciting," Renny Steele, who is president of the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association and a Sea Isle City beach patrol captain. "The schedule is about the same as last year, but it's getting to the saturation point where we can't have any more (events). I always enjoy it. We (Sea Isle) were right in it (among the top teams) a few years ago, but we've been down the last couple years. I think we can come back this year."
The United States Lifeguard Association National Championships will be held in Cape May for the second straight year. The Junior Nationals will be held Aug. 8 and the Nationals Aug. 9-11. Many of the top lifeguard athletes in the nation will compete.
"The USLA voted to come back here," said Buzz Mogck, the Cape May Beach Patrol captain. "Cape May is a nice family town and the hotels and restaurants are close. In (Los Angeles) County, the motels are all kind of far away. The (Junior Championships) will bring a lot of families, and they'll stay the weekend. I have all the equipment from last year. We just have to generate some funds to support the event."
A change in the pool
The biggest change this year will be in South Jersey Lifeguard Pool Swimming Championships, which will have at least two all-women's races for the first time. The South Jersey Pool Championships, which began in 1919, is a pool meet featuring swimmers from the South Jersey patrols. Previously, female lifeguard swimmers at the meet had to race against the men.
The South Jersey Chiefs Association voted for the change Thursday at its meeting. The Pool Swim will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 29 at the Ocean City Aquatics & Fitness Center in Ocean City.
"It's a step in the right direction," Steele said. "It's always been tough for the women to race against the men. Women are such an important part of lifeguarding now. It's still in the planning stage, but there will be at least one individual race and one relay race for the women."
The South Jersey Lifeguard Championships, considered the summer's top beach patrol event, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10 in Ocean City. The event, now in its 73rd year, is held annually in the city that won the team title the previous year. Ocean City topped Margate by one point in 2011 in Margate. O.C. did it without a first place finish in what was a wide-open competition.
South Jersey champions last year included Margate's Ashton Funk and Chuck Gowdy in the doubles row, John Maloy of Wildwood Crest in the swim and Avalon's Erich Wolf in the singles row. Maloy was also the local star of the 2011 USLA Nationals, winning the prestigious men's open run-swim-run.
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