August 2019

Dynamic Start for Sea Isle, Upper Twp. Patrols

By Dave Bontempo

Kristi Rohrer running the surf dash.

Pat Scannapieco and Danny Rogers of the SICBP.

The Sea Isle City and Upper Township beach patrols both enjoyed a dynamic start to their season, from different directions.

Sea Isle basked in the celebratory glow of its 100th anniversary, while Upper Township began strong in the ocean and flashed its philanthropic flair with an event targeted to combat multiple sclerosis.



The Sea Isle patrol was saluted in an administrative context. While its summer-long party has been well-documented, the highlight was a string of events in mid-July.


On the official birthday of the patrol, July 11, Mayor Leonard Desiderio called the patrol a treasure in remarks before throngs of spectators. And competing patrols, which help make up the lifeguard racing circuit each summer, sent boats to participate in the parade.


Following the weekend, Sea Isle City prepared to host the Captain Bill Gallagher 10-Mile Run on Aug. 3.


Regarding competition, chief Renny Steele says the patrol is young and hungry and he expects individual performers to blossom throughout the year.


Sea Isle City’s female athletes gained a strong start to the season. Kristi Rohrer ran the leadoff leg of the surf dash and got the patrol a lead it never relinquished at the Longport Women’s Invitational. Rohrer, Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky, Jenna Mesisca and Mandi Basantis won the surf event in 4:48.7, by a considerable 26 seconds.


With a course longer than normal, Sea Isle mixed some water expertise with its sprinting capability on sand to gain a convincing victory.


While the Sea Isle women’s team has been quite strong in recent years, Wildwood Crest seized the Cape May County spotlight in the men’s and women’s division with a magical start. It completed a rare sweep of the county championships, Longport Women’s and Beschen-Callahan races in the circuit’s first week, creating excitement up and down the county beaches.


“We are very happy with our first three competitions of the summer,” Steele says. “We have been respectable every time out, but right now it’s all about Wildwood Crest. They are having a phenomenal season.


“My hat’s off to them. We went through a season like that once and it was exciting knowing we had a great chance to win every time out.”



One patrol able to flex its muscles early was Upper Township, which discovered a stud doubles-rowing tandem in Ryan Fisher and Kyle Rumaker in 2016. New doubles pairings often flourish around the three-year mark, which Fisher and Rumaker did by notching a number of victories last year for Upper Township. They triumphed in the Cape May County, Tri Resorts, Atlantic City Lifeguard Classic and Upper Township’s Bay Race.


The tandem surged out of the chute this year with a triumph in the Cape May County championships and used experience to navigate a choppy ocean and strong current.


“They are veteran and highly skilled rowers,” says Bill Handley, Upper Township’s beach patrol captain. “They have been able to put together their skills with what they have learned from our veterans about rowing on the ocean and making the conditions work for them. The conditions are different every day.”


Lindsay Robbins also has emerged as a strong presence with good finishes in early-season races.


While the season was in its infancy, Upper Township prepared for its July 30 MS Bay Race, a grueling doubles event of between 6 and 7 miles.


In roughly a quarter of a century, Handley’s event has raised nearly $150,000 for research to combat MS. It grows in popularity every year. Guards obtain sponsors or even sponsor themselves, and proceeds go to the charitable cause.


Kyle Rumaker and Ryan Fisher in the doubles row.


It also is a unique race distance, far longer than those on the lifeguard circuit but shorter than some area marathons.


“One of the unique things about this is that it starts out as a sprint and you realize that you have to keep that pace up for 6 miles or more,” Handley says. “If you give an inch, another crew is going to take advantage of that.”


Handley adds that the race is often won or lost by those who know the currents.


While Rumaker and Fisher enter as defending champions of this race, Avalon Beach Patrol lieutenant Craig Whitehead returns as one of its longest-serving goodwill ambassadors. Whitehead has competed in this race every year since the early 1990s, has won it several times, and also owns the rare South Jerseys jewel of three consecutive doubles titles with Mike Cras from 1991-93.


Whitehead savors his unbroken string of appearances here.


“That race can depend on the night,” he says. “Sometimes you have dead air and it is completely calm. Sometimes it’s choppy and windy. You look for a happy medium, about 5-8 mph winds, just to keep the bugs guessing.”


Like Handley, Whitehead stresses the value of early-race positioning because passing boats is difficult in many of the course’s tight spots.


“When I was rowing in the 15-minute ocean races, I would look at this race as an excellent midseason test of fitness,” he says. “If you are able to do well in that 6-mile race, when your body recovers, you will be in fine shape for the South Jerseys.”



The South Jersey championships are Aug. 9 in Longport, which has won an improbable three straight titles after never having won the competition, which began in 1924.



Check with beaches before attending, schedule subject to occasional change. Times are 6:30pm unless noted.


August 2: Margate Memorials


August 3: Sea Isle City 10-mile Island Run, 5:30 pm


August 9: South Jersey Championships, Longport

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