ATLANTIC CITY - None of the 14 beach patrols could dominate the 22nd annual Atlantic City Lifeguard Classic on Sunday night, so the championship came down to the last race.
Three different patrols won the first three races, and many had a chance to capture the team championship going into the final one, the 1,000-foot singles row.
That left Margate's hopes in the hands of oarsman Chuck Gowdy, and he won by more than a boatlength to give his team the overall title by one point.
With the scoring system 7-5-4-3-2-1 for the first six places, Gowdy's win rallied Margate from sixth place to first with 13 points. Avalon and Longport each had 12 points, but Avalon took second place because it won the doubles row, which is the South Jersey Chiefs Association tiebreaker.
Avalon's Erich Wolf and Craig Whitehead won the mile doubles row, edging Longport's Mike McGrath and Sean Duffey by one second in the surf.
"I knew we had 13 points but didn't know we won the championship until they announced that Avalon and Longport both had 12," said Gowdy, 29, a Somers Point resident. "A lot of teams did well tonight, and it's great to win it."
Gowdy, who won the Cape May Beach Patrol Superathlon last Monday, was in his only race of the night and he won in 5 minutes, 38 seconds. He won't be teaming with usual doubles partner Ashton Funk this summer because Funk has a back injury. Gowdy beat Wolf by four seconds in the singles, and Ventnor's David Funk, who is Ashton's brother, was one second behind Wolf in third.
"I took one day off of training (after the Superathlon) and then got back to rowing and running. I try to keep my cardio up as much as I can. I felt great tonight," Gowdy said.
"The singles is one of those races where you have to nail all four aspects, the start in the surf, the flag turn, your rowing, and coming to the beach. I had a good start and a good turn, and luckily was able to hold off the other rowers."
Margate also got fourth-place finishes from the doubles crew of Chris Graves and Bob Bechtel, and from swimmer Pat Flynn.
"We're happy to win it," said Rich Kugel, the Margate Beach Patrol chief. "With Chuck not rowing doubles, I knew he was going to be fresh. Nothing he can do surprises me. The day of the Superathlon, he won a patrol (singles) row in the morning, guarded on his stand all day, got to the Superathlon, ran to the starting line and won the race."
The event began with Atlantic City's 17-year-old Carson Rau winning the 600-meter paddleboard race in 5:21. Rau missed the far flag on the box course and found himself in fourth place after going back to turn the flag correctly. But he caught a couple waves and still stood up first in the surf.
"I turned it on and hung onto a couple swells," said Rau, a Ventnor resident. "It feels good to win. I was pretty tired, and it affected me in the swim (which he did 20 minutes later but didn't place in the top six). As long as I did well in one event, it didn't matter."
Longport's McGrath and Duffy were leading on a wave, but it died, and Wolf and Whitehead latched onto another wave that helped them to the close win.
"I thought we won it, but I knew it was very close," said the 26-year-old Wolf, who was the bow. "Longport rowed a great race. We didn't know who won until they announced it."
Whitehead, 41, is a career bow man who is now in the stern. "I'm getting used it. It felt OK."
North Wildwood rookie Sean Regan won the half-mile swim in 12:40, reaching the line on the beach nine seconds ahead of Sea Isle City's Blake Trabuchi-Downey. Stone Harbor's Devin McCall was third in 13:09.
"I took it out quick and stayed with the leader," said Regan, 17, of Fort Washington, Pa. "I think I got the lead about 25 yards after the flag. I was trying to pick out a building for a marker on the way in, and I came in pretty straight. I'm learning a lot from my coaches."