Six straight days of northeast wind and ocean chop made for a tricky weekend for local beach patrols. But it also made for a grueling day for the endurance athletes who paddled the 22 miles around Absecon Island on Saturday for the fifth annual Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation Paddle For A Cause.
"It was a rough paddle this year," said Mike May, the ambassador of the foundation started by Somers Point surfer and cancer survivor Dean Randazzo. "Those guys really earned it."
May, a longtime Margate resident and friend of Randazzo, started the event in 2008. May now lives in San Diego but returned to support the event.
The first to finish was Sven Peltonen, an Atlantic City firefighter, in 4 hours, 32 minutes. Peltonen, 35, also a Brigantine lifeguard, was one of the original paddlers who took part in 2008. Back then, Peltonen paddled in the traditional prone position. This year, he was on an 18-foot stand-up paddle board.
The event has grown from a few friends on a fun excursion to 110 prone, stand-up paddle (SUP), kayak, canoe and paddle racers. It is also now a competitive World Paddle Association-sanctioned race for regional watermen and raised more than $56,000 for local families battling cancer.
The race started at 8 a.m. in the Marina District of Atlantic City. Racers paddled out of Atlantic City Inlet, southward in the ocean and past Atlantic City, Ventnor and Margate. They went into Longport Inlet, back north through the back bays and thoroughfares and finished at the Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
Finishing first in the standard 14-foot SUP class for the third year in a row was Mark Temme, 45, a native of Surf City who lives in New York City and gives SUP lessons and tours on the Hudson River through New York Kayak Company.
"The ocean stretch was downwind and it was awesome, but the bay was brutal," Temme said. "There was a short-period northeast windswell in the ocean and you could use it to your advantage. I rode a nice wave coming into Longport Inlet, just like last year. It was good fun, but the bay side had a 25-knot headwind 95 percent of the time. It was in your face with a vengeance."
Temme was right ahead of Brian Oliver, who signed up the previous morning and finished second in the 14-foot SUP class.
Billy Mehl, 30, of Ship Bottom finished third. Mehl and Temme have developed a friendly rivalry that pushes both of their performances. Last year, Mehl finished one spot ahead of Temme at the Surfers Environmental Alliance NYC Paddle, but this is the third time Temme has gotten the best of him in Atlantic City.
"Billy had a board with a lot of rocker and I think that made it tough for him," Temme said.
Jason Chew, 37, of Ocean City won the prone division at 4:35. He was followed by Bill Webster, 30, of Ship Bottom and Tony Mehalic, 27, of Latrobe, Pa.
Finishing first among canoes and kayaks, and just nine minutes behind Peltonen, was environmental activist and distance paddler Margo Pellegrino, 45, of Medford Lakes.
The northeast winds certainly took their toll. Times were about an hour longer than last year.
Randazzo, of Somers Point, was part of the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour in the mid-1990s and won three bouts with cancer. Later this month, he will head to Nicaragua for the International Surfing Association World Masters Championships, where he will try to reach the finals for a second year in a row.
Randazzo started his foundation a decade ago to help other local families.
"This is the best event we've ever had in terms of money raised," Randazzo said. "This event is growing and people are starting to figure that out. It's super."
Foundation board member Dan Celluci, 40, of Margate, said next year the goal is to have 200 paddlers.
"Now we'll be able to help even more families in need with their financial woes," Celluci said.