Kevin Cody

First stops to jump off R10 Buoy, then continues on to win R10 race

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Max First stops mid-race to jump off the R10 Buoy, then goes on to victory. Photo by Ken Pagliaro (KenPagliaro.com)

by Jolie Witkowski and Kevin Cody

Lifeguard Max First took an early lead in the Riviera Mexican Grill R10 Paddleboard race and appeared certain to win the race, which he has won three of the past four years, including last year. Then he got off his board at the R10 buoy.

The R10 is four miles off of Torrance Beach. It’s the turnaround for the out-and-back race, which starts at Torrance Beach. The R10 has historical significance to paddlers. It’s a popular training destination and Catalina Classic paddlers also must round the R10 before heading for the Classic’s finish at the Manhattan Beach Pier.

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Jumping off the R10 is an initiation rite for paddlers. And like all initiation rites, it’s unpleasant. The buoy is a 20-foot high, circular tower of rusty metal that rocks with the swells. Its base is covered in slippery poop from 600-pound sea lions whose loud barks are not welcome greetings.

Board shaper Pat Ryan, of Hermosa Beach, finished second in the 14-foot stand-up division, behind Olympus Boards’ Jeremy Godo Kiss. Photo by Ken Pagliaro

First has jumped from the R10 multiples, but never before during a race. That’s what he did on Saturday. Then he remounted his board and won the race in 1:20:16, nearly four minutes ahead of second place finisher Cameron Merrill. Pro surfer Kelly Zaun, in his first year of paddling, finished third, four-and-a-half minutes behind First.

The R-10 Paddleboard Race was founded in 1997 by Riviera Mexican Grill owner Danny Williams. Son-in-law Kyle Daniels, a retired Los Angeles County Lifeguard, is the race director.

“The race was initially a surfboard competition attracting mostly young kids,” Williams recalled. When he founded the competition was helping coach the Peninsula High surf team.

Saturday’s race had 68 prone and stand-up paddlers, including Catalina Classic veterans Reno Caldwell, whose first Classic was in 19986  and Woody Maxwell, who once held the Classic prone division record.

Cody Strange, who was competing in the race for the first time, said, “Everyone goes hard, but it’s all friendly rivalries.”

First, despite crushing his rivals egos, insisted, “My favorite part was definitely the people. Kyle is my mentor.”  Daniels has won the Catalina Classic in both the stock board (12-foot and under) and unlimited divisions. First has won the Classic the pasts three out of four years, including last year. Saturday’s race was a training run for this year’s Classic, on Sunday, August 26.

The stand-up victory was determined by the sprint up the beach. Paul Pianowski, 33, finished in 1:26:28, heading off John Gabriel, 28, who finished 1:27. The only two women in the race were lifeguard Tiana Pugliese and Catalina Classic veteran DJ O’Brian. Publiese, who competed the previous weekend in the 32-mile Molokai2Oahu race, won on Saturday in a time of 1:38:15. O’Brien finished in 1:42:49.

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