Before they sit down for the turkey and stuffing, Joe LaRosa Jr. and his wife, Barb, sit down to row the boat on Thanksgiving.
“She paddles stern. I bow,” LaRosa said.
Sea Isle City’s LaRosas have been paddling together for 20 years.
In what has become a holiday tradition for them, they join other boat enthusiasts on a Pilgrim Paddle on the morning of Thanksgiving, November 24, at Great Egg Harbor Bay in the shadow of Garden State Parkway. Participate in a regatta.
The 3.5-mile race begins at Beasley Point’s Upper Township Municipal Beach at 9:00 am, circumnavigates the Drag Island before returning to the starting point to finish.
Beach Patrol members and former lifeguards from Ocean City, Sea Isle, Upper Townships, Brigantine, Wildwood, Ventner, Margate, Longport, Long Beach Island, and possibly other towns are expected to attend.
However, anyone who wants to boat or paddle is invited to join the free regatta. Van Duyne surf boats, crew shells, coastal rowing shells and paddleboards zip around the waters of the Gulf.
“It’s a great day for the family,” said race organizer Wayne Mack Murray. “Sisters paddle with sisters, brothers paddle with brothers, fathers paddle with sons. Some paddle together for the first time.”
Mack Murray, who lives in Upper Township, is a former Sea Isle Beach Patrol member and a four-time Gold Medal winner at the National Lifeguard Association of America competition.
Most recently, Mac Murray and his boat partner, Mark Maia, another former Sea Isle Beach Patrol member, competed at the National Lifeguard Association National Championships on August 15 in Hermosa Beach, California. and dominated the 65-68 age group and won the Surf Boat Race. 13.
For Pilgrim Paddle, 68-year-old Mack Murray will team up with another boat partner, Jimmy Gibbons, 62. Jimmy Gibbons, 62, is a retired lifeguard in Sea Isle, Wildwood and Upper Township.
Mac Murray and Gibbons were paddlers in one of only two boats that competed during the Pilgrim Paddle’s humble beginnings 15 years ago. One of his second boat rowers was Bill Handley, Chief of the Upper Township Beach Patrol.
The event has continued to grow over the years and there are likely 20 to 25 boats participating in this Thanksgiving, Mac Murray said.
“I’m looking for something easy for everyone to do before Thanksgiving dinner or the football game,” he said.
However, Mac Murray pointed out that most rowers’ competitiveness usually carries over as soon as they are out on the water.
“It’s always racing,” he said. “When you’re rowing with your friends and you look to the side and see another boat, it’s a race.”
Mac Murray spent 15 years as a lifeguard at Sea Isle, 10 years at Wildwood, and 22 years with the Upper Township Beach Patrol. He is a member of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Alumni Hall of Fame.
Joe LaRosa Jr. is another member of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Alumni Association Hall of Fame. A retired educator and his wife Barb, who is 69, will be rowing together this Thanksgiving.
Over the years, LaRosa has taken part in Pilgrim paddles on Thanksgiving Day, whether it’s bad weather or 70-degree temperatures and ideal boat conditions.
“There were times when it was rough and windy. My hands got cold. But other than that, it was perfect,” he said.
In addition to the Pilgrim Paddle Boat Race, this family-friendly event has expanded to include free, fun running and walking on the Bridge Walkway on the Garden State Parkway, which connects Summers Point and Upper Township. The 3-mile run/walk will start at 8:45 am on Thanksgiving and is open to all.
Runners and walkers start at the Beasley Point Park bike ramp on Harbor Road in Beasley Point and follow the Parkway Bridge pedestrian path to Somers Point and back.
Pedestrians can enjoy panoramic views of the regatta while crossing the bridge over the bay. The event will also include a scavenger hunt to keep the kids entertained.
No registration is required for the Pilgrim Paddle Race or Run/Walk. Participants are asked to bring non-perishable food to donate to a local food bank.
In the event of inclement weather on Thanksgiving, the event will be rescheduled for Saturday, November 26th at 9am.
For more information, please contact event organizer Wayne Mac Murray via email at UTBP1@aol.com.