WILDWOOD CREST – A thick fog bank rolled onto the beach at Rambler Road Monday evening, reducing visibility to inches instead of miles for the 40th Cape May County Lifeguard Championships.

As a result, race officials were limited to holding just three events – the men’s and women’s surf dash relays and open paddleboard – before postponing the competition. The other five events – doubles and singles rows, open and women’s swims, women’s paddleboard – are scheduled to be held Wednesday, weather permitting.

There was a half-hour window Monday, however, when the sun managed to pierce the mist before disappearing, providing just enough time for North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest to win the surf dash relays and for Cape May’s Clay Stephens to earn a victory in the open paddleboard.

“Navigation was tough,” Stephens said. “I saw the buoy on the way out and I saw the flashing lights of the trucks on the beach on the way in.”

The surf dash relays are considered the most exciting events in lifeguard racing and Monday’s editions lived up to the reputation.

Photo courtesy of Dave Weinberg
Photo courtesy of Dave Weinberg

A large and rowdy crowd lined the course, standing 10 deep on the shore line to watch the four-person squads sprint, porpoise dive and swim out to buoys in chest-high water before reversing course to tag their teammates.

North Wildwood treated spectators to yet another impressive performance. Logan Westerfer, Seamus McCain, Chase McCray and Hunter Bostwick combined to give North Wildwood its second straight win in the event.

“This event is very important to us because of the tradition,” said McCray, who gave his team the lead with a terrific third leg. “We don’t always have the best rowers or the best swimmers. But we always have the best surf dash. It’s a tradition.”

Westerfer, a senior ice hockey player at Coastal Carolina University, proved to be just as adept in salt water as he is on the frozen variety while giving the team the early lead.

McCain, a defensive end at West Chester University, maintained a slight edge. McCray, a swimmer at Misercordia College (Pa.), widened the gap to about 15 yards, and Bostwick, a track and cross country runner at Washington Township High School, came through with an excellent anchor leg.

Westerfer, McCray and Bostwick were all part of last year’s winning team. McCain ran the second leg in place of McCray’s brother, Travis, who suffered a dislocated shoulder last week.

“I treated it just like a (football) game,” McCain said. “You’ve always got to be ready when your number’s called.”

One of the things that separates the Cape May County races from others on the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association schedule is its willingness to add new events in an effort to showcase a beach patrol’s depth.

This marked the first time it held a women’s surf dash relay after using a coed format – four men and one woman – the last few years.

Sophia Jurusz, Emie Frederick, Laura Sweet and Maddie Priest combined to give Wildwood Crest a dominant victory.

“We’ve been training together for this for a while,” Jurusz said. “This is the water we guard every day, so I think that might have given us a little bit of an advantage.”

If North Wildwood is known for its surf dash, Cape May’s specialty has been paddleboard races in recent years.  Stephens became the third racer for the patrol to win in the last four years, joining Zack Baron (2021) and Zeb Hinker (2023).

Photo courtesy of Dabe Weinberg
Photo courtesy of Dabe Weinberg

Because of the thickening fog, spectators had a tough time gauging the race. No one knew who was ahead until Stephens emerged from the ocean, dropped his board, and sprinted up the beach toward the finish line while his fellow Cape May lifeguards shouted encouragement.

“I knew I was in the lead, but I didn’t know if anyone was behind me,” Stephens said. “I thought the teammates running next to me were competitors.”

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