Harvey Cedars Runs Away With 8th LBI Tourney Title

By DAVID BIGGY | Aug 07, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy WE GOT THIS!: Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol’s Joe Pantaleo cruises to shore in first-place during the men’s paddle as the Vikings go on to win a fifth straight Island Lifeguard Tournament title on Aug. 3.

Long Beach Township — Cruising a wave toward the beach, Joe Pantaleo did his best to impersonate Michael Jordan. The Harvey Cedars lifeguard struck a pose on his paddleboard and let his tongue hang from his mouth as the surf carried him to shore, where he ran across the finish line, dropped his board and hopped into the arms of Kevin Wessler.

Pantaleo didn’t merely win the men’s paddle race for the first time in more than a half-dozen tries. He put one of two exclamation points on the Vikings’ fifth straight Island Lifeguard Tournament championship. The trio of Shane Stauffer, Jarrod Shoemaker and Ryan Corcoran added the other exclamation point when they won the surf dash relay to culminate a dominant, 122-point effort.

“This is why Randal Townsend makes us train so hard,” said Pantaleo, as dusk settled at the 68th Street beach of Brant Beach on Aug. 3. “Nothing can drown us. We work hard every day to make ourselves better lifeguards. Of course, the main purpose is for public safety. But the other purpose is for the betterment of the team in competition.”

In 2017, Cedars broke the previous high mark with 119 points, before tallying 114 points last summer, outdistancing Barnegat Light by 17 points while capturing a fourth straight Island crown.

But this time, it was no contest. HCBP registered 30 points through the first four events and rolled from there, trouncing the five-team field. Surf City finished second with 88 points, followed by The Light with 86 and Ship Bottom with 80. Long Beach Township ended with 62.

“I’m absolutely speechless!” said Townsend, who after a bit of coaxing managed to say some more a few minutes before hoisting the championship trophy with his crew.

“Eleven years ago, we were near the bottom of the heap. Slowly but surely we chipped away, whether it was with our swimming or rowing, and eventually we ended up getting to the top a few times. Now, here we are again, standing tall at the top of the podium. It’s incredible!”

While the mile row competitors were chugging through the ocean water to start Friday’s lineup of events, Surf City’s Julia Rothstein powered to victory ahead of Cedars’ Gabby Sibilia in the women’s paddle to give her squad the early lead. However, that lead quickly disappeared when Wessler and J.J. Weiss easily won the row.

Stauffer and Russell Hill scored eight first-place points in the buoy rescue before the power team of Pantaleo, Ken Burkhardt, Billy Webster and Townsend crushed the field in the paddle relay to give the Vikings an 11-point lead over Ship Bottom. While the three-way battle for second place had already started taking shape – SCBP’s Gaby Hartney and Anna Esposito won the women’s doubles row and BLBP’s Zak Westerberg and Don Paul Adams took the top spot in the surfboat rescue – Cedars was well on its way toward title No. 5.

Webster and Jenna Parker concluded the first night with victories in the ironman and ironwoman events, pushing HCBP to a solid, 19-point advantage with 54 points.

In the ironman, Township’s Josh Wall grabbed the lead during the opening run and remained in the lead at the turn marker for the swim, with Webster trailing him by only a few yards. On the way back toward the beach, Webster caught a wave and body-surfed past Wall and already was 50 yards into his paddle leg before Wall emerged from the swim. The 37-year-old Webster, competing in his 20th straight ironman event at the Island tourney, cruised from there.

“For the first time in a couple of years, I had nice, clean legs in this race and no wave issues,” said Webster, who last year got hammered by waves on the rowing leg to thwart an otherwise possible first-place effort. “But whenever Josh Wall is in the race, he’s always a threat. He and I go way back in this race, and you never can sleep on him because he’s a great and well-trained competitor. I was fortunate to get that wave at the end of the swim. And from there it was a matter of keeping things strong and steady.”

Parker also used the swimming leg as her means of getting to the front in the ironwoman, initially led by Ship Bottom’s Tracey Hemmerle following the run. Once Parker took the lead midway through the first half of the swim, the only one close enough to possibly catch her was Surf City’s Pepper Kolman, who had worked her way into second-place midway through the swim. But after stretching the lead to some 40 yards on the paddle, Parker was golden.

“You can’t take anything for granted in this race,” Parker said, smiling as usual. “The conditions tonight were great, with the ocean relatively calm. But these conditions level the playing field in a lot of ways. Tracey’s amazing and Pepper is awesome, so the key was to get to the front and stay there. At some point, I wasn’t so much worrying where they were, but instead just trying to keep a good rhythm for myself.”

The Vikings’ rhythm didn’t relent on the second night of competition. Pat Stacio, John Faus and Nate Castiello started them off with a line pull victory. Still, Cedars wasn’t in the clear quite yet – Surf City had a little bit of a surge left, especially after veteran rowers Chris Bigos and beach patrol captain Mark Dileo swiped first in the men’s doubles row.

But to follow up that outstanding effort, SCBP’s Maria Nitti delivered one of her own, dethroning Harvey Cedars’ Maggie Shaw as the women’s 1,000-foot swim champ. Nitti got out to the front midway through the opening 500 feet and maintained it the rest of the way, beating Shaw to the beach by about 10 yards.

“I’m primarily a pool swimmer and my boss has been giving me a lot of lectures this summer about learning the ocean a bit better,” Nitti said with a smile. “I tried to keep an eye on everybody as I got to the backstretch, but once I turned at the green buoy my sprinter instinct took over and I just went for it.”

After Shoemaker outraced Barnegat Light’s Lenny Brown in the men’s 1,000-foot swim, and Beck Jaffe and Townsend easily won the paddle rescue, Harvey Cedars was 16 points closer to the title, its magic number to clinch dwindling fast. Meanwhile, the battle for second raged on. That’s when Ship Bottom scored its first victory.

In the singles row – often a very tight race year in and year out – SBBP’s Pat Carey powered his way into the lead immediately upon launch. He went wire to wire, using an incredibly strong second leg to put some distance ahead of The Light’s Nick Wierman two lanes to his north.

“Tom Duralek said to me at the start of tonight’s events, ‘You’re going to do the singles row.’ And I asked, ‘Do I have a choice?’ He said, ‘No.’ So I got in the boat and did it. I guess after 10 years, it was my time,” Carey said.

“When I turned, I could see the B.L. guy and Otto (Weiler, from Cedars), and they weren’t too far behind. I just cranked it up at that point.”

Adams and Laura Patterson sent Barnegat Light from third to second in the standings after winning the mixed doubles row.

But the story the rest of the way was Harvey Cedars. Using a rip current to their advantage, the foursome of Shaw, Emma Dries, Sibilia and Parker cruised to victory in the women’s paddle relay to clinch the Vikings’ eighth championship overall.

Surf City’s Bigos, Dileo, Conner McMenamin, Charlie Osborne, C.J. Turner and Max Gaudioso won a thrilling surfboat relay, before Pantaleo delivered eight more points to Cedars’ total.

“I tried not to look around too much through the first half of the M-course, but I could hear a few of the guys behind me,” he said. “I got a really nice boost from a wave as I approached the second turn, and then I didn’t hear the voices anymore. I just had to keep doing what I was doing, and I knew I’d get it. This was my eighth or ninth time trying to win this race and I finally did it.”

As medals were being doled out, Townsend said words couldn’t express how he felt about his team and the support they receive from the community.

“I’m very blessed to have this team of dedicated and talented lifeguards,” he said. “We have a lot of synergy within our patrol. We’re all on the same wavelength or the same page, whatever you want to call it. Everybody puts the team needs ahead of their personal wants. When everybody has the same mindset it just makes us better.

“And the proof is that we’re taking the trophy back to Harvey Cedars again!”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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