Some 131 swimmers, twice last year’s number, who ranged in age from 8 to 62, participated in two-mile, one-mile, and half-mile ocean swims early Saturday morning to benefit the Montauk Playhouse’s aquatics center.
The two-miler, which spanned Kirk Park and Ditch Plain Beach, was won by Rod McClave, 37, a world-class triathlete from New York City who has said the swimming races overseen by the Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad here have impressed him as “the best-run and safest I’ve ever been in.”
According to John Ryan Sr., who 25 years ago this month launched an ocean safety course here for 11-to-14-year-olds that grew into the hugely popular junior lifeguard program — 250 of his charges are to vie in championships at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett this weekend — there is only one other organized ocean swim on the Island, in Long Beach on Labor Day.
Later, McClave said that, in contrast to last year, “there was no chop, and while there were big rollers the break wasn’t bad. The main thing was that the sweep was going west this year, so it was slower going. Usually, my two-mile time is 36 minutes. This time, it was 51-something. I looked at my watch at one mile and it read 24:00, so the sweep got worse as the race went on. . . . It was a beautiful day for it, and it was great that so many showed up.”
While McClave, who’s done more than 100 triathlons all over the world, led the 50-swimmer two-mile field out of the water at Ditch Plain, the runner-up spot was hotly contested by Gareth Chapman, who’s working at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter this summer, and 15-year-old Thomas Brierley, an East Hampton High School sophomore who was to handily win the Youth Triathlon at Maidstone Park in Springs the next day.
Brierley was in the lead as he made a left turn around the final buoy, heading for the beach, but Chapman, a South African, powered by him in the final yards to place second by three seconds. McClave’s time was 51:18, Chapman’s was 54:25, and Brierley’s, 54:28.
McClave said that following a road race in Sweden and a triathlon in Miami, he would be back here in mid-August for Ocean Rescue Squad long-distance swims in Gardiner’s Bay.
The top four in the one-miler, from Nick’s to Ditch, were masters swimmers — Tim Hynes, 45, who won it in 26:00, Adrian Mackay, 45, who finished a minute later, Bill Garry, 51, an international age-group triathlete, who was three minutes off the pace, and Gregory Durovich, 44, who finished five minutes behind Hynes.
A number of teenagers were among the 49 contestants, including Amanda Calabrese, Georgie Bogetti, Griffin Taylor, Sophia Taylor, Michael Thomas, Kate Thomas, Caroline Thomas, and Nick Sweeney. There was even a 9-year-old, Noah Mata, who did it in 1 hour and 19 minutes.
The half-miler was won by Steven Kristel, 57, in 17 minutes. Andrew Rosenfeld, 29, T.J. Calabrese, 12, and Olivia Plansker tied for second, all at 19:00.
Julia Brierley, Thomas’s younger sister, who’s 9, placed ninth, in 23:00, and 8-year-old Ada Merriman placed 23rd among the 27 entrants in 33:00.
“Last year, there was a 20-mile-per-hour southwest wind behind them,” said Bob Miller, who, with the help of many Ocean Rescue teammates, oversaw the event. “This year, the current wasn’t strong, so they didn’t get any help.”
“But the biggest story here,” said Miller, who is on the Playhouse board, is a substitute physical education instructor at the Montauk School, and has been for the past 15 years a lifeguard at Hither Hills State Park, “is the reason why we have these ocean swims — to build an aquatics center at the Playhouse. We have over $2 million now, and I think once we hit $5 million we’ll be able to put the pools [a five-lane, 25-yard one and a small heated one] in. . . . It’s going to happen.”
“We take the pre-K to Gurney’s for swimming lessons now, but our long-term goal,” Miller said, “is to add free swimming lessons for all Montauk School students at the Playhouse pool.”