When Margate surfer Mike May organized the first Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation Paddle for A Cause, a grueling 22.5-mile endurance challenge in 2008, it was largely a solidarity event.
The paddlers looked to stay together on this "maiden voyage," to bring awareness to local pro surfer Dean Randazzo and his organization that aims to help families battling cancer.
But with the event in its fourth year, the competitive nature of many of the participants has won out, creating an intense race around Absecon Island starting Sunday morning.
Participants this year will include prone, stand-up paddlers, and kayakers. They will start at Farley State Marina at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City at 9 a.m., leaving Absecon Inlet.
They plan to stroke eight miles south in the ocean, around Longport, into Great Egg Inlet and return north through the back bays and thoroughfares.
Randazzo, of Somers Point, remains the only New Jersey surfer to have competed on the elite Mens Associated of Surfing Professional World Tour.
His has faced a series of roadblocks in his career due to his 10-plus-year battle with Hodgkin's disease.
In 2010, Randazzo also returned for the paddle, from San Diego where he lives with his family for much of the year, and did a portion of the course.
"I was feeling really good at the time of the event. I had just gotten back from surfing Mexico and my paddling and endurance were better than they'd been since the cancer returned in 2006. I made about 15 miles of it in five hours and I was proud of my performance," Randazzo said.
He may have overdone it, however. When he returned to California, his left arm swelled up and he felt pressure in his neck.
"I went to the doctor and they did a sonogram and found a blood clot. A combination of the treatments I had been through and something called effort thrombosis were most likely the culprit. Anyway, I'm lucky nothing broke off and caused anything major to happen. I'm back to normal now, but I'm not going to overexert myself this year."
Each year, the race attracts more competitive paddlers. First place overall last year and $500 went to prone racer Andy Carter, 24, a surfer and Ocean City lifeguard.
"He's like 6-foot-7, with a huge wingspan," says Adam Walcoff, board member of the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation. "He's just built for this kind of thing."
Mark Temme, 44, of New York City, competed for the first time last year and beat Billy Mehl, 29, of Ship Bottom to win $250 in the stand-up division and create a bit of a rivalry this year.
Temme grew up on Long Beach Island, as a surfer and Long Beach Township lifeguard.
He's surfed around the world and lifeguarded in Australia. He discovered stand-up paddling in Hanalei Bay, Hawaii, and now paddles around New York City when there are no waves on Long Island.
He works for New York Kayak Company, doing stand-up paddle tours and lessons on the Hudson River. He has raced the 26-mile Surfers Environmental Association Paddle around the city and surfed in the World Stand Up Tour event at Sunset Beach, on Oahu, Hawaii.
Walcoff says that other notable paddlers include Atlantic City fireman Joe DeSteffano, Brigantine Beach Patrol's Sven Peltonen, and the Funk brothers - Andrew, of Surfer Supplies in Ocean City, and David, a Ventnor firefighter and lifeguard.
Todd DeSatnick, a veteran of this event, is out this year with a tear to his rotator cuff.
New this year are a few local pro surfers. Atlantic City's Frank Walsh has paddled in the past, but now Ocean City's Jamie Moran, 27, and Chris Kelly, 20, will test their endurance in the stand-up and prone class, respectively.
"A lot of the guys are avid surfers. Most people are doing the stand-up paddle board, which is a really great endurance workout," Randazzo said. "I think it's great that a few of the local pro surfers are coming out. They like the challenge and are down for supporting the cause."
Note: The paddle will be followed by a party at the Bayview Room, on the deck of the Golden Nugget at 5 p.m. The afterparty will include dinner, cash bar, and live music. It's open to the public for $25. Proceeds go to the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation.
Paddle for a Cause
When: 9 a.m. start Sunday
Where: Start and finish at Farley State Marina, near Golden Nugget, Atlantic City
Benefits: Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation. Participants can sign up on race day and go to deanrandazzo
cancerfoundation.org for more information.