Swimmers Swam So Everyone Can

Playhouse’s community gala will be Aug. 4
Lori King, who has the Catalina Channel and the Ibiza 27K among her credits, said she was glad to see swimmers here were accustoming themselves to open water swims at a young age. Jack Graves

Bob Miller, who has been overseeing for a decade “ocean challenge” swims helping to underwrite the construction of a four-lane, 25-yard pool at the Montauk Playhouse Community Center, a project expected to begin by year’s end, told the record number of participants at Montauk’s Ditch Plain early Saturday morning that their cause was a worthy one.

“We’re surrounded by water and yet we don’t have a pool in which everyone can learn to swim,” he said, adding that everyone ought to be availed of swimming instruction. 

Moreover, he said, the Playhouse, with its planned aquatic and cultural centers, would indeed be for everyone, young and old. A rehabilitation pool is part of the aquatic center project. 

“My goal,” Miller said during a conversation later that morning, “is that in order for a child to graduate from Montauk School, he or she would have to be able to tread water for at least five minutes and be able to swim at least 100 yards. . . . The pool should be part of the school program. Everyone out here should be drownproofed.”

The ocean conditions Saturday were hardly pool-like. There was a strong westerly current and chop, which challenged the event’s 142 participants — the milers and half-milers the whole way, and the 5K swimmers on their return leg. 

About 40 members of the East Hampton Village Ocean Rescue Squad were on hand to assure that the swimmers were safe. A dozen starters — seven in the mile and five in the half-miler — were “pulled,” though with no untoward consequences, T.J. Calabrese, one of the squad’s members, said afterward.

Jonathan Boffa, a 25-year-old native of Verona, Italy, living in New York City, where he works as a graphic designer, was, as last year, the winner of the 5K, in 1 hour, 9 minutes, and 52 seconds, a little more than five minutes slower than last year, the rough conditions presumably having made the difference.

A freestyler on Italy’s national team and when he was a student at North Carolina State, Boffa is relatively new to open water swimming. In fact, last year here marked the first time he’d swum such a long distance.

When told that Lori King, who was to finish seventh among the 5K’s 17 entrants, in 1:31:12, had swum the Catalina Channel and the Eight Bridges race along the Hudson River, among other open water swims, Boffa said he would “stick to this” for the present. 

The 5K’s runner-up, as last year, was Mike Petrzela, 43, a native of the Czech Republic, in 1:21:25. His 2017 time was 1:11:56.

“It was very choppy,” Petrzela, a part-time East Hampton resident, said. “It must have taken me twice as long to come back as it did going out. A half-hour or so going out, and about 50 minutes coming back.”

“I didn’t see any sharks, though maybe one got my timer, the Velcro thing we wear around our ankles,” he said before adding that the swim was, as always, “very well protected by the Ocean Rescue Squad.”

He has been in every one of the 10 ocean challenge swims to date. The former Syracuse University swimmer and David Powers tied for first two years ago.

  Petrzela, who generally breathes to the left, rotating once in a while, gets a pretty much uninterrupted view of Montauk’s cliffs on the return to Ditch Plain. 

Asked if he thought about anything as he moved along, he said, “You’re enjoying the moment . . . and realizing how lucky you are to be swimming and to be living out here.”

“ ‘Oh, this is not going to be fun,’ ” Matthew O’Grady, the 5K’s fourth-place finisher, recalled thinking to himself on setting out almost an hour and a half earlier. “It was like a washing machine,” he said, as Boffa, and relatives of his from Italy, all of whom were staying at O’Grady’s house in Sag Harbor, nodded.

The one-miler was won by Gabriel Mathews, in 35:53. Boris Talan (36:26) was second, followed by the female winners, Sophia Swanson and Elise Fong, each in 37:19. Sophia Taylor was fifth, in 37:44, and Angelika Cruz was sixth, in 37:47, followed not long after by Lars Merseburg (38:04), William Garry (38:05), and Caitlin Dowd (39:58), who had the week before been the women’s winner in the Montauk Lighthouse sprint triathlon.

The half-mile race, which drew 66 entrants, was won by Thor Warnken, in 18:52. Six of the top 10 in that race were females, namely Summer Jones, who was third, in 20:26, Frances Michaels (20:35), Giselle Michaels (21:08), Ava Soldo (21:55), Olivia Brabant (22:17), and Margaux Reyl (22:29). Thinley Edwards (22:48) and Brennan Kelly (22:50) rounded out the top 10.

King, who was the second woman and seventh over all in a 27K (17 mile) open water swim in Ibiza this past year, said, “This is so well run — the Ocean Rescue Squad is top-notch. You should be here in the morning when they’re setting up. You never feel alone in these swims, and it’s great to see that younger swimmers are doing them, that they’re getting the feel of them, how the water is moving. I never did any open water swimming until I’d graduated from college. . . . Matt O’Grady did the Lake Zurich 27K. I’d love to do that one too. I hear it’s beautiful . . . and cold.”