Barnegat Bay Challenge Features Several Hotly Contested Battles
The heat and humidity were just a precursor for what turned out to be several hotly contested battles in the water during the 10th annual Barnegat Bay Challenge, hosted by the Ship Bottom Beach Patrol on Aug. 29.
Whether competitors were stroking surf skis, paddling with their arms, pushing along a standup board with a paddle or cruising through the 5-mile course in a Van Duyne surf boat, the races to the finish weren’t without some excitement as they made their way to the bay beach at 13th Street.
“It was a sprint the whole way,” said Eric Costanzo, who took the lead soon after the start of the surf ski and went the distance in the front, emerging from the calm bay waters first with a time of 35:28.1, just ahead of training partners and friends Craig Impens and Sean Brennan.
“We got under the last bridge and I felt good. I felt like I had enough left to finish strong and so I pulled away from Craig and Sean. It’s only the second time I’ve beaten Sean, so it was a good day for me.”
The 42-year-old pulmonary and neurocritical specialist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, who doubles as a Bradley Beach lifeguard, finished second in the surf ski last year.
“The guy who beat me last year wasn’t here this time,” said Costanzo, an Allenhurst resident who also owns Shark River Paddling. “I do 10 to 12 races a year, but I like this event. It’s organized very well, and being a lifeguard I feel a connection to it since it’s an event with a lot of lifeguards competing in it. It’s good to support this race.”
Always supportive of local races, the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol had a bunch of its guards competing as well. And with little surprise, Randy Townsend and Billy Webster rowed their Van Duyne to the first spot for a third time during the last four years, completing the course in 49:25.7.
“This is the fourth time in a row that a Cedars boat has won this race,” Webster said. “Randy and I won the past two years. Randy was with Otto (Weiler) the year before that, and Randy and I won four years ago. So we have a good history in this event.”
Barnegat Light’s Don Adams and Ship Bottom’s Tom Duralek paired to finish second in 49:43.9, followed by Shawn Hannon and Jim Lemarco in 49:53.7.
“With this race, we always try to get out to the front pretty quick, so we’re not getting jammed up with everybody else, banging oars with other boats and all that,” Webster said. “When we got around the first island, we were well ahead and then we extended our lead. The key for us was just to keep our pace and try not to slow down much.”
Ryan Oliver had no room to slow down much, either. The 42-year-old from Toms River, cruising on a standup paddleboard, had competitors close by the whole race.
“I got out to the front quickly, almost right off the start, but I knew I couldn’t let up or Joe would catch me,” said Oliver, who finished in 46:23.0, some 30 seconds ahead of Joe Ward, who came in at 46:53.5. “Joe is real strong, so I went out hard. My board is a bit narrower than his, so I wanted to get ahead of him going into the current.”
Oliver described the water conditions as “glassy” and “a little hot.”
“This is my fourth or fifth time here,” he said. “It’s a good course and it’s fun. You get some good rivalries in these races. But there are a lot of variables involved, and it can be anybody’s day depending on those variables.”
For much of the race, Ship Bottom’s Jonny Skolnick remained behind 56-year-old Bob Highley, despite differing paddleboard lengths.
“He was legit, but he was paddling on a 16-foot board and mine is a 12-foot stock board,” said Skolnick, who won the prone paddle category in 52:55.6. “I kind of hung back, but I didn’t want him to finish ahead of me. So, at the last bridge I threw the hammer down and went ahead of him.”
Skolnick, who won the grueling, 17-mile Bay to Bay Paddleboard Race earlier in the summer and finished third in the 25-mile SEA Paddle NYC on Aug. 20, has won the prone paddle part of the Bay Challenge at least five times but admitted he wasn’t certain of that.
“Could be five, six, seven ... I really don’t keep track,” he said. “I like ocean paddles and longer distances. So with this being five miles, I really don’t get tired with it. It’s like a walk in the park, honestly. But the competition was good today. I had to push this one a little faster today. I felt great.”
Dan Casey was second in the prone paddle division with a time of 53:36.5, while William Dorney took third in 54:16.3. Highley won the prone paddle for boards larger than 12 feet with a time of 52:59.5, while Zeke Hill took the second spot in 58:51.3.
The top female finisher for standup paddlers was Gabrielle Sacco in 1:02:29.6, while Caroline Unger placed second in 1:05:33.1 and Melissa Salterelli grabbed third with a time of 1:06:23.9.
The top finisher in the open division – which was comprised of vessels other than a standard paddleboard or standup board, a surf ski or Van Duyne – was Matthew Giannetti, who completed the course in 51:20.4. Daniel Unger and Robert Errico were second and third with respective times of 56:56.9 and 57:09.3.