Kevin Cody

San Diego paddlers dominate South Bay Paddle

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South Bay Paddle co-founder Scott Rusher at the start of Saturday morning’s race at the Hermosa Beach pier. Photo by Alegra Scribner.

“This is like the old days,” Joe Bark said when he checked in Saturday morning for the South Bay Paddle at the Hermosa Beach pier. Race co-founder Scott Rusher and Matt Walls took Rark’s remark as a compliment. The retired Redondo Beach firefighter began shaping boards for himself and friends after he entered his first Catalina Classic paddleboard race in 1983. He has competed in the Classic every year since and now makes boards for most of the world’s top paddlers. Almost all of the boards in Saturday’s race were his.  But Bark still views paddling as an excuse to get on the water with friends. 

Photos by Alegra Scribner and Kevin Cody

Saturday’s South Bay Paddle was the first paddleboard race in Hermosa Beach race since the Hennessey’s World Championships in 2011. Rusher and Walls conceived of the race as a qualifier for the Catalina Classic, held in late August. In previous years, the only Classic qualifying races have been the Waterman’s Challenge in San Diego, the Jay Race in Santa Cruz and the Rock 2 Rock, which starts on Catalina Island and ends in San Pedro. Despite the fact that each year, roughly half of the Classic paddlers are from the South Bay, there were no local qualifying races.

A week ago, fewer than two dozen paddlers had signed up for the race, leaving Rusher and Walls to worry that maybe there wasn’t interest in a local qualifier. Then the signups began pouring in from all over the state. By Saturday morning 80 were signed in, nearly as many as compete in the Classic each year.

Conditions were ideal, except for waist to head high surf, which made paddling out to the start line off the end of the Hermosa pier a challenge. June gloom gave way to sun and the wind of the previous weeks laid down, leaving the water smooth and fast. The 14.6 mile, triangle course went south four miles from the Hermosa pier to Torrance Beach, then four miles out to sea to the R10 weather buoy and then back to the Hermosa pier.

Among the late entries was a contingency of San Diego paddlers who would capture seven of the top 10 places. Former professional triathlete Roch Frey, 51, of Encinitas, won the race in 2:24:09. Frey co-founded the paddleboard web site RidingBumps and the Kona Whitey Tighty Run. The Whitey Tighty is held the week of the Hawaiian Ironman in mockery of the triathletes who parade around the island in skin tight clothing.

Don Miralle of Leucadia was second, in 2:26:25. Miralle holds the course record for the Waterman’s Challenge in San Diego. Chris Russell of Coronado, was third, in 2:27:35. The first South Bay paddler to finish was Jack Bark. The 2012 Molokai 2 Oahu champion placed fourth, racing one of his dad’s unlimited boards. The only other South Bay paddlers in the top 10 were Rock 2 Rock race director George Loren, who placed seventh and former pro surfer Dayton Silva, of Manhattan Beach, who placed eighth in what was his first paddleboard race.

Liz Hunter, of Oceanside, won the women’s stock division in 2:55:46, followed by DJ O’Brien of Manhattan Beach, in 2:57:29, and Diana Pugliese, of Redondo Beach in three hours.

Bart Schade won the stock men’s in 2:38:36, followed by Rodney Ellis, of Redondo Beach, in 2:45:17, and Ryan Frazee, in 2:45:20.

The top finishers in the stock over 50 were Deon Lourens, in 2:42,25, Craig Callender, in 3:04:49, and Ted Laptuono, in 3:11:36.

The top finishers in the 14-foot division were Jay Scheckman, in 2:41:28, John Summers, in 2:56:57 and Mark Harrington in 3:04:41.

Reid Inskeep, 16, of Hermosa Beach, was the youngest paddler in the race. The Mira Costa High wrestler won the under 18 division in 3:11:31.

Catalina Classic veteran George Toberman, 76 of Malibu, won the Perseverance Award for his last place finish, which he attributed to recently recovering from a bicycling accident. He broke his pelvis and hip.

Overall first place finisher Frey also won the 50 and over division, followed by Geoff Page, co-director of the San Diego Waterman’s Challenge, in 2:32:05, and Jay Russell, of Hermosa Beach, in 2:32:00. Race co-founder Rusher, of Manhattan Beach, was fourth in the 50 and over division, in 2:39:32. He said he would have beat Russell, his long time rival, but was slowed by his race director responsibilities. He had to stop at the R-10 to toss one of his water bottles to a dehydrated paddler. ER

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