Shields, Hannon and Duralek Victorious in Barnegat Bay Challenge

By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 04, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Tom Duralek and Shawn Hannon cruise through the last quarter-mile of the Barnegat Bay Challenge en route to victory in the Van Duyne class on Aug. 29.

Ship Bottom — About a month earlier, Hugh Shields paddled his way through the Ka’iwi Channel in Hawaii, a 28-mile stretch of Pacific Ocean. Barnegat Bay, particularly on Aug. 29, wasn’t anything like the “Channel of Bones.”

“There’s no comparison at all,” said Shields, the 15-year-old Barnegat Light Beach Patrol lifeguard in training and Philadelphia resident, who won the Barnegat Bay Challenge paddleboard class. “This is all flat and much shorter, obviously.”

Just another light cruise on calmer waters, really. The young man got out to the front of the paddleboard field and simply left everybody else behind, clearing the 5-mile race in just under an hour.

“I usually paddle on the other side of the Island, in the ocean,” he said. “The only time I get into the bay is during the winter, but in the summer I’m always in the ocean. It was a lot of fun. I’m friends with a lot of these guys out here, so it’s fun to give them crap for beating them. But it’s all good-natured stuff. We’re all cool with each other here.”

Paddling south toward Flat Island, Shields held a slight lead, but once around the west side of Flat Island – as he began the long paddle northward toward Cedar Bonnet Island – he turned up his pace a bit more.

“At the beginning of a race, I just get my arms going and paddle just to paddle,” he said. “Eventually, I realized I probably could or at least try to win it, then I took off.”

Jonny Skolnick, who has won the paddleboard class a bunch of times, finished second despite taking most of the summer off from paddling to rest his ailing back and neck. Dan Cascio took third.

Meanwhile, the Van Duyne boat race was another classic and included an added feature to this year’s event – several dozen anchored boats to the north side of the course near the finish. With the last Thursday concert taking place at the boat ramp area a few blocks away, many boats dotted the area south of the bridge as the crowds listened to the music.

For Ship Bottom Beach Patrol rowers Tom Duralek and Shawn Hannon, navigating around the obstacle course of boats wasn’t much of a chore, since they were out in front of the pack pretty much from start to finish and completed the race in just about 50 minutes.

The Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol duo of Billy Webster and Randy Townsend, who have won the Van Duyne class a bunch of times, ended in second, while one of last year’s winners, Surf City Beach Patrol Capt. Mark Dileo, partnered with HCBP’s Paul Blankemeyer and swiped third.

“This was awesome,” said Hannon, who hadn’t rowed with his veteran partner in any distance race prior to the Barnegat Bay Challenge. “Through the first 2,000 feet as we got to Flat Island, it was just about getting our rhythm down. Once we got onto the other side of the island and the wind died down a bit we just settled in and turned it up as we went. As long as we didn’t lose an oar, we were going to be fine.”

Of course, having Townsend and Webster constantly in their view didn’t hurt, either. After rounding Cedar Bonnet Island and turning northward back toward the finish line, Duralek and Hannon were working with a solid 75-yard gap.

“At the outset, I wasn’t going to do this race,” Duralek said. “Shawn changed my mind because he needed a partner and he haunted me like Shawn does. But I’m glad I did this row. The conditions were great. The key was to keep a good distance ahead of Randy and Billy and try to increase that distance a little somewhere along the line. They have a very good stroke, so beating them is really cool.”

The open class was won by Matt Zwengraf in an outrigger canoe, followed by Sheryl Paynter and Michelle Dempsey in a double-seated vessel. Robert Jehn won the surf ski group, while HCBP’s Julia Gilbert and William Weiss won in the mixed row group. Eddy Okinsky and Mike Jacobus led the way in the men’s standup paddle class, while Josette Lata and Caroline Unger finished as the top two women for standup paddlers.

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