Max First from Manhattan Beach lived up to his name once again and for the fourth time took home first place in the 32-mile Catalina Classic Paddleboard race Sunday, Aug. 25, nearly beating the course record.

No other competitor has won the race as many times, according to race officials.

With a time of 5 hours 3 minutes 28 seconds, First was within a minute of the fastest time, set 20 years ago by Tim Gair.

“I was just happy to be within distance of the record,” First said after finishing the race at the Manhattan Beach Pier where friends and family greeted him with hugs and adulation.

The race pits competitors on slender boards paddling by hand on a grueling journey beginning at 6 a.m. from Two Harbors on Catalina Island.

Times in the race, now in its 41st year, depend largely on the weather. Headwinds and currents, fog and ships, sometimes the occasional shark sighting, can all slow a paddler down. Sunday’s conditions were practically perfect with very little wind, according to First.

The 29-year-old from Manhattan Beach said he and Lachie Lansdown, 23, from Australia, were within yards of each other for much of the day. Lansdown, who came in second place this year at 5 hours 8 minutes, won the race last year.

Liz Hunter took first place among the women with a time of 6 hours 18 minutes. The 94 competitors in the race continued finishing throughout the afternoon.

First said he was told he was in sight of the record at the R10 buoy about seven miles from the finish line, at the same time his whole body was cramping. He still managed to make a strong push and pull out ahead of Lansdown at the end.

Nicole Bezic and Ryan Thomas were among the 15 or so friends and family who came to support First wearing matching light blue shirts.

“It’s so exciting,” Bezic said. “We had to rush over and almost missed it because he finished so fast.”

The race was dedicated to Mike Doyle, an early surfboard shaper and paddler who passed away this year. Volunteer Gene Rink said Doyle represented a connection to the early days of surfing in the same way the event was a throwback to the old paddling races that surfers would hold in the early days of the sport.

“This is one of the few events that bridges surfing and paddling and connects history with the present day,” Rink said. “This particular spot at the Manhattan Beach is historic in the surfing world.”

Contact Lisa Jacobs or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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