By LESLEY GRAHAM
The Ocean City Beach Patrol competed in the last of the “big three” lifeguard races Friday evening on 33rd Street in Longport in front of a loud cheering section of current guards and alumni alike.
Ocean City took fourth place overall in the South Jersey Championships thanks to a second place finish by Kevin Perry in the singles row and a higher finish by the doubles crew for the tiebreaker.
Longport took home the team title for the fourth consecutive year. As the winner of this year’s championship, Longport will once again host the event next year.
Now in its 80th year, the South Jersey Championships always draws a large crowd of spectators to cheer on their local favorites to victory. The race joins the Margate Memorials and the Dutch Hoffman Memorials as the “big three” of lifeguard races over the summer.
The South Jersey Championships features three events – doubles row, swim and singles row – which became the standard for the competition starting in 1973.
Ocean City was in the thick of it during the doubles race, an out and back row approximately a mile and a half long with a two-man crew. Ocean City’s Matt Garbutt and Paul Boardman rowed a strong course and finished in the second pack of boats.
Chuck Gowdy and Chris Graves of Margate won the doubles row for the second straight year, and for the third time in four years.
After the doubles race finished up, it was time for the swim to take place. Ocean City’s Frankie Brady had a strong strategy of running south down the beach to counteract the current pulling north.
However, Joey Tepper, of Longport, a rising senior at Egg Harbor Township High School, won the swim for his second straight year and capped off an undefeated season of summer racing.
In what was the most exciting event of the evening, Kevin Perry came up big for Ocean City, grabbing second place in the singles row.
The singles row, a shorter version of the same out and back course as the doubles, had a lot of action as boats were trying to catch waves and give themselves an advantage on the way in.
Perry rowed a straight course, caught a swell in the middle section and then rowed onto a wave at the end to pass a few boats and finish in second, narrowly missing first place.
As he was eyeing the finish line, Perry said, “I just told myself to keep rowing. It’s Jerseys – now is the time to pull something off.”
Chris Spiers, of Margate, won the singles row, giving Margate victories in both rowing events and finishing second overall.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Capt. Brian Booth was proud of the effort and dedication the team members put in all summer long.
“Training and competing for Ocean City takes time and energy, day in and day out, and we are so proud of all they have accomplished this summer,” Booth said.