Sea Isle City lifeguard Danny Rogers pulled his oars one last time last August before crossing the finish line at the annual South Jersey Lifeguard Championships in Longport.
Friends and fellow lifeguards rushed into the water, hoisted Rogers and the boat onto their shoulders and carried him to the beach to celebrate his victory.
Similar scenes will play out again at area lifeguard races this year, starting with Friday’s Cape May County Lifeguard Championships in Wildwood Crest and the Michael D. McGrath Memorial Lifeguard Races in Longport.
Fortunately, rows of doubles and singles will once again be part of the races.
The tragic rowing accident that claimed the life of 16-year-old Cape May Beach Patrol recruit Norman Inferrera on August 19 has raised questions about the safety and effectiveness of Van Duyne lifeboats. This gave rise to an insurance-related debate over whether rowing should still be included in races.
The powers that recently opted to retain the doubles and singles rows as part of most events on the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association racing schedule, although the decision came late enough that Cape May was forced to postpone its SuperAthalon run-row-swim for a year.
Continuing to row in races was a good decision. A non-rowing doubles and singles rescue event would be like a BLT without the B and L; an Earth, Wind & Fire concert with only Fire; an outfield with just one center fielder.
Rowing has been the basis of lifeguard racing in South Jersey since it was held nearly 100 years ago. The region’s oldest event – the South Jersey Championships – began with a row of doubles in 1924, which was won by Atlantic City’s Harry Yates and Jack Woodworth.
Certain local breeds have undoubtedly evolved over the years. Friday’s Cape May County Championships at Wildwood Crest is arguably the best event on the calendar due to its decision to expand races to accurately reflect the (lifetime) changing of the guard during today’s beach patrols today. In addition to the men’s rowers and swim, the competition also includes a men’s paddleboard race, a women’s swim and paddleboard, and a five-person mixed surfboard relay.
I have campaigned unsuccessfully in recent years for the South Jersey Championships to be expanded to include a paddleboard race, plus one or two women’s events. Of course, all-female races on the schedule – Longport Women’s Lifeguard Invitational (July 12), Ocean City Beach Patrol Women’s Invitational (July 20), Cape May Point Women’s Lifeguard Challenge (July 27), Bill Howarth Women’s Lifeguard Invitational (August 10) – do a fantastic job of showcasing the talents and abilities of female lifeguards. But they deserve the opportunity to join their male teammates in competing for their respective patrols.
Until that changes, I will be content to attend and enjoy the current roster of lifeguard races, starting Friday when I head to the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol headquarters on Rambler Road for the county.
You’ll also find me this summer at the “Big Three” races – Dutch Hoffman Memorial Lifeguard Championships in Wildwood (July 29), the Margate Beach Patrol World War II Memorials (August 5) and the South Jersey Lifeguard Championship (August 12). ) in Longport.
Longport will be aiming for their sixth straight South Jersey title. The Patrol may struggle to repeat without swimmer Joey Tepper, a graduate of Egg Harbor Township High School and current University of Tennessee star, who announced his retirement from lifeguard racing after last year’s victory .
But as long as rowers Sean Duffey and Mike McGrath are in the boat, they have a chance.
Lifeguard races are as much a part of Jersey Shore summer as beaches, boardwalks and chip-stealing seagulls.
Large, boisterous crowds line the beach to search for their favorites as the sun sinks below the horizon. Friends and fellow lifeguards greet each run with loud cheers, including the traditional “Sea…Isle, Sea…Isle, Sea…Isle” chant that erupts before each event. Last year they screamed as doubles rowers Rogers and Pat Scannpieco won the Cape May County title.
Memories are made and legends are made every summer. Fortunately, rowing will be part of it again.