MARGATE - Poseidon decided to have some fun at the Margate World War II Memorial lifeguard championships last Friday.  He turned the ocean at Decateur Avenue Beach into a washing machine, producing powerful swells that made the doubles row, open swim and singles row daunting challenges for the competitors.

The result was one of the most exciting, unpredictable races in the 73-year history of the event.

"It was crazy out there," swim winner Zach Vasser of Margate said.

Photo by Dave Weinberg
Photo by Dave Weinberg

The waves were like foaming, swirling barricades, spinning and tossing boats around the course.  Prior to the singles row, one competitor tried to crest a wave during warmups, only snap an oar and get spit back toward the beach before capsizing.

Atlantic City used its depth to win the team title for the first time since 2005.  The patrol did not place first in any individual race, but finished in the top three in all three.  It finished with 11 points, followed by Longport (9) and Brigantine (8).  Atlantic City brothers Rick and Sean Blair - who won the previous week's doubles row at the Dutch Hoffman's - took third in Margate.  Swimmer Charles Schreiner took second behind Vasser, then Sean Blair finished third in the singles row.

Brothers Jack and Joe Savell gave Brigantine its first doubles win at the Margate Memorials in at least 20 years.  They prevailed in a thrilling race that wasn't decided until the last 50 yards.  They caught a wave near the end and rode it past two-time defending champions Sean Duffy and Mike McGrath of Longport.  The Savell's finished in 15 minutes, 31 seconds, followed by Duffy and McGrath in 15:55 and the Blair's in 16:05.

"I broke my (right ring) finger the other day playing basketball and it really hurts," Jack Savell said. "We also took on a little water in the beginning of the race and that made it tough. It was rough out there, but we were able to catch that wave and bring it home."

Photo by Dave Weinberg
Photo by Dave Weinberg

The choppy waves made it especially difficult for the swimmers to see the turnaround buoy in the out-and-back course.  Vasser, who is in his third season as Margate lifeguard, used his home-course familiarity to earn a decisive win. He sprinted out of the water and across the line in 13:48.  Schreiner crossed in 14:02 and Ocean City's Dylan Dewitt was third in 14:37.

"When the ocean is rough like that, it makes racing a lot more fun," said Vasser, a recent Mainland Regional High School graduate who is headed to Columbia University later this month. "It was pretty tough on the way out. A lot of the race is mental when the conditions are like this. The waves were hitting me in the face, but I just had to tell myself to fight through it."

McGrath, one of eight doubles rowers who also competed in singles, relied on his experience to win the singles row for the second straight year and third time overall.  The 37-year-old rowed over and through the waves on the way out, then caught a swell on the way in.  While a number of rowers spun sideways and even backwards at various points down the stretch, he was able to maintain a relatively straight course.

McGrath finished in 5:12 to earn a close win over Sean Blair (5:15). Joe Savell was third in 15:24.

"I love rowing in these conditions," McGrath said.

Photo by Dave Weinberg
Photo by Dave Weinberg

Depending on Poseidon's mood, McGrath and others could get another opportunity to test the waters this Friday, when the South Jersey Championships return to the same beach.  Margate earned the right to host the races by winning the team title last year, ending Longort's five-year run.

No clear favorite has emerged this summer.  Avalon dominated most of the early races, but it won't get a chance to display its versatility.  Unlike most of the other events, the South Jersey's consist of just three races: the doubles row, swim and singles row.

As mentioned previously in this space, it makes more sense to add other events such as a paddleboard race, surf dash relay and more importantly, one or two women's races - swim and paddleboard - in order to accurately reflect the strength and depth of a local beach patrol.

The South Jersey's unofficially began in 1919 with a doubles row. A swim was added in 1935 and the singles row became a permanent fixture in 1973.  Fifty years later, it's time to expand again.

*Eagles set to open preseason Saturday

It’s time for Eagles fans to break out their new Kelly-green jerseys.  The Birds’ first preseason game is scheduled for Saturday night at Baltimore.

Don’t expect to see most of the starters for more than a series or two, if at all. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, wide receiver A.J. Brown, center Jason Kelce, defensive end Brandon Graham and company don’t need extended playing time. The preseason is for rookies and backups to earn roster spots, whether it’s with the Eagles or another team.

Here are five players to keep an eye on Saturday.

  1. Quarterback Marcus Mariota: The Eagles signed Mariota to serve as Hurts’ backup in place of Gardner Minshew, who is now with the Colts.  You can also check him out on the Netflix series, “Quarterback,” which profiles Mariota, Vikings QB Kirk Cousins and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.
  2. Running back Rashaad Penny: With Miles Sanders now with the Panthers, the Eagles are counting on newcomers Penny and DeAndre Swift to fill the void in the backfield.
  3. Guard/Center Cam Jurgens: The only major hole in the Eagles’ offense is at right guard after Isaac Seumalo signed with the Steelers. Jergens will get the first crack at replacing him.
  4. Safety Sydney Brown: Brown, a rookie third-round pick out of Illinois, is now serving as a backup but could work his way into the starting lineup with a strong showing during training camp and the preseason.
  5. Punter Ty Zentner: Arryn Siposs is the incumbent, but his job is nowhere near guaranteed. Zantner, a rookie free agent from Kansas State, has a chance to win the job.

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