WILDWOOD - Dolan Grisbaum's mistake during last Friday's Dutch Hoffman Memorial Lifeguard Championships turned out to be the right decision.  The Avalon lifeguard veered off course during the men's open swim, but he wound up catching a wave that eluded the other competitors.  His victory helped Avalon win the team title and continue its dominance in the South Jersey lifeguard racing circuit this summer.

"I'm really shocked I won that race," said Grisbaum, a 2021 Ocean City High School graduate who swims for Boston University and also works as a financial accountant in Boston.  "I took a back course (on the way into the beach) and I was lucky enough to get that wave. If I had stayed straight like everybody else, there's no way I would have won."

Avalon Beach Patrol won the 53rd annual Dutch Hoffman's for the second straight year after earlier winning Cape May County and David Kerr Memorial races this summer.  They finished with 20 points, followed by Brigantine BP and Wildwood Crest BP with 15 points apiece.

The Dutch Hoffman's is the first leg of what is considered the "Big Three" of the South Jersey Lifeguard racing season.  The Margate Beach Patrol World War II Memorials are scheduled for this Friday, with the South Jersey Championships slated for Friday, August 11th, also hosted in Margate.

The Dutch Hoffman's provide arguably the most exciting atmosphere of all the races and that was again the case last Friday evening.  A large crowd stood 10 deep on the Lincoln Avenue Beach in Wildwood for the event, straining against the wooden barriers held by Wildwood lifeguards that serve as a funnel into the finish lines.  A cool ocean breeze gave way to the smells of French Fries and Pizza wafting off the iconic Boardwalk.  Cheers from spectators were occasionally interrupted by the sounds of "Waaa, Waaa, Watch the Tram Car, Please" as the train rumbled over the boards.

"This is my favorite race because of the atmosphere," Grisbaum said. "The boardwalk, the crowd, everything. I'd rather win this race than the South Jersey's. It's a great event."

The Dutch Hoffman's Races are also one of the most unique competitions on the circuit because of its range of lifeguard races.  Unlike the Margate Memorials and South Jersey Championships - both races have only a doubles row, swim and singles row - the Wildwood event includes eight races: doubles row, men's and women's paddleboards, men's and women's beach runs, men's and women's swim, and singles row.  Given the drastic rise in female lifeguards, it would make sense for the other two legs of the Triple Crown to include more events.

That variety was what enabled Avalon to win last Friday.  In addition to Grisbaum, the ABP also got victories from Brandon Hontz and Maggie Murphy in the men's and women's beach runs, respectively.

Hontz, a former Penn State runner who won the Cape May SuperAthalon earlier this summer, pulled away over the last 400 yards for a comfortable victory.  Murphy, a recent graduate of Mount Saint Joseph High School in Pennsylvania and incoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, also used a strong kick to win.

"I just wanted to get as many points for my team as I could," Hontz said. "Luckily, the tide was going out, so there was a decent amount of hard sand to run on. The soft sand is pretty brutal."

Second-place finisher Brigantine swept the paddleboard events behind Grace Emig and Sean O'Neill, who both prevailed in exciting races.  Emig was neck-and-neck with Wildwood Crest's Adrienne Bilello for almost all of the women's race.  Emig ditched her board first and ran through the thigh-high surf to the water's edge, holding off Bilello's late charge for the win.

"This is always a weird race," said Emig, who is an elementary school art teacher in Brigantine. "The sandbar goes out really far, so I just stood up and started running."

O'Neill won an incredible men's paddleboard race.  Four competitors were paddling furiously toward shore down the stretch, desperately trying to climb onto a swell. Three capsized on waves. O'Neill stayed on his board and rode it to victory.

"Paddling is a big thing in Brigantine," O'Neill said. "We train on the boards all the time."

After the men's paddleboard, Longport's Jordyn Ricciotti won the women's swim in a tight race against Sea Isle City's Mary Kate Leonard.  Ricciotti, who is headed into her senior year at Mainland Regional High School, was wearing green sun block beneath her eyes.

"One of my friends gave it to me," she said. "It's kind of my good-luck charm."

Waves also played a huge role in the rows.  Atlantic City brothers Sean and Rick Blair opened the races with a win in the doubles row. The duo jumped on a pair of nice swells on the way in that carried them past four other crews. Atlantic City won in 12 minutes, 44 seconds. Brigantine's Jack and Joe Savell took second in 12:48.

Sean Blair demonstrated terrific balance and poise to win the singles row. That race was also close, as several rowers jumped on the same wave. Three boats breached on the swell while Blair slid to the stern, dug an oar into the ocean, and adeptly steered his boat to the beach.

"The last half of the race was really close," Sean Blair said. "I tried to stay away from the other boats to avoid our oars clashing. I was able to get a wave on the way in and it paid off."

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