LBI Beach Patrols Prepare for Red Bull Surf and Rescue Competition in Atlantic City

Bigger Prize Purse, Larger Field and Even More Rivalries for 2017 Event
By JON COEN | Jul 12, 2017
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool Local lifeguards relish the opportunity to compete at Red Bull Surf and Rescue on July 18 in Atlantic City.

From the first gun, any spectator on the beach in Atlantic City could see this was going to be an intense night.

Throughout the summer, New Jersey’s beaches play host to dozens of lifeguard competitions. There are regional events like the Ship Bottom Invitational, rowing races, women-only competition, mile-long swims, and the ever-important two-day LBI “Islands” tournament. But none was quite like the first Red Bull Surf and Rescue event in 2015. First off, it encompassed all of New Jersey, presenting the first time that teams from Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties had all competed in a single event. Then there were the general excitement and staging that Red Bull brought to the table. And last of all, there was a serious prize purse, something that no other beach patrol tournament offers.

Now in its third year, the event will play host to 50 teams from Virginia Beach to Long Island, the prize purse has been sweetened, and the rivalries will be even more heated when the squads line up on the South Carolina Avenue beach on the evening of July 18.

“Before Red Bull Surf and Rescue, lifeguarding didn’t get a lot of focus. But they’ve really pumped up the excitement,” said Otto Weiler, a Harvey Cedars veteran lifeguard. “You kind of feel like you’re in a gladiator pit. You’re jammed into the competitor area with all these other swimmers like cattle. There’s thousands of people and cameras on you. It’s really exciting as you get ready to run into the water.”

Weiler admitted the main goal of the Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol each year is to win the “Islands” races, but Surf and Rescue weighs heavily on everyone’s mind.

“It really tests the skills that every lifeguard should be able to perform. Every competitor has to paddle, swim and run. It forces you to grow your skill set. You really have to step it up.”

Barnegat Light team captain Nate Humberston said he’s really appreciative of the opportunity.

“This year they’ve included patrols from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, all of New Jersey and New York. They’ve made it bigger and put more money into it. Not enough people really know how exciting lifeguard racing is. Red Bull does what it takes to get people out; once they’re there, they get really interested.”

For Long Beach Township, it’s a bonus.

“Lifeguarding is an important job,” said Brant Beach Capt. Chris Burkhard, who will be leading the Long Beach Township guards. “We have to stay in shape to be able to make rescues. Fitness is a big part of our life, so a chance to show off our stuff in competition is just the icing on the cake.”

The other thing that makes this event drastically different from other beach patrol tournaments is the serious purse. While none of the other events offer anything but pride, first place alone gets a $2,500 check, a new Jet Ski, trailer and rescue sled, which Harvey Cedars Capt. Randy Townsend estimates is worth about $15,000.

“Even without the prize and money, everyone is really pumped up for it,” added Humberston.

Bragging rights are still the main prize in Atlantic City, and there will be a good number of local teams in the thick of it all. In 2015, Harvey Cedars took a bittersweet second place and fifth in 2016. Beach Haven placed eighth last year. Barnegat Light nailed seventh place in 2015, and Ship Bottom, which hadn’t even planned to send a team, came in fourth that year.

Harvey Cedars will send two teams and possibly three this year, the A-Team consisting of captain and professional surfer Randy Townsend, Billy Webster, professional triathlete Jenna Parker and Brady Stauffer.

Ship Bottom will field the squad of Chris Durban, Avery Waterworth, Mike Vile and Tracey Hemmerle. They will have a second team of Jonny Skolnick, Shawn Hannon, Haley Ulinger and Jake Andershack.

Long Beach Township will be sending Burkhardt, Christian Berardo, Robert Lynch and Carolyn Silverman, the latter two of whom are Division One collegiate swimmers.

Barnegat Light has readied Laura Patterson, Michael Macchia, Zach Kohl and Humberston as their first team and Brie Von Rosendahl, Mike Smith, Zak Westerberg and Jason Jennings as its second. Both are peppered with current and former Division One swimmers.

Surf City Capt. Mark DiLeo hasn’t narrowed down his teams but is looking at Charlie Osborne, Julia Rothstein, Pepper Kolman, Alyssa Gesek, Maria Nitti, Patrick Lavery, Josh Klingerman, Daniel Adjedj, Beth Hartney and Max Gaudioso to fill out two teams.

Beach Haven was unable to get a team together this year.

Red Bull Surf and Rescue is also a unique format, with four elimination rounds. Each team consists of four athletes, including one female. The event begins with all 50 teams in a swim relay. As Weiler mentioned, part of what makes the event so special is that each lifeguard has to participate in each discipline, so a paddle specialist or rowing ace still has to be able to swim 250 meters at a competitive pace.

The 32 top finishers will then go on to a 500-meter paddle relay.

“It’s going to get pretty interesting especially when you have 32 teams in the paddle. There’s going to be some carnage, but I guess that’s what people want to see,” said Humberston.

The top half of that field competes in an exciting run-row-run relay that consists of a 400-meter run and 750-meter doubles row. The final round comes down to the top eight teams in the ever-electrifying all-event relay. The top finisher is crowned the overall champ.

Weiler points to different areas in the state being more proficient at certain skills. Monmouth County has great swimmers. South Jersey has a strong rowing tradition. Long Beach Island is known to have some of the top paddlers, including Townsend, Humberston, Durbin, Webster and Skolnick.

“Nobody paddles like people from LBI,” said Weiler.

The overall event is a celebration of New Jersey’s longstanding beach patrol tradition. Atlantic City’s lifeguarding history goes back to the early 1900s. Spectators can enter the beach at South Carolina Avenue and get right up close to the action. The event is followed by an after party at the adjacent Landshark Bar and Grill.

Top paddle athlete, Harvey Cedars' captain Randy Townsend, will have two teams in the event. (Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool)
Expanding the field to 50 teams this year means there will be some real excitement in the water. (Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool)
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