A New Zealand competitor in his first try in the South Bay Dozen won the men’s competition in a tiebreaker while the women’s champion was a repeat winner as they competed in the 13th annual event at Torrance Beach last Sunday under pretty favorable conditions.
Lifeguards, swimmers and athletes from around the South Bay and beyond competed in the numerous events earning points in each event they entered. The competitors at the end of the day with the most total points were named champions.
Hamish Miller, 19, of Mount Maunganui, New Zealand tied with Hayden Hemmens, 21, of Costa Mesa after all events had been completed. They were still tied after the first two tiebreaker formulas and the third one was who had the most first place finishes. Miller won three events and Hemmens two.
“I came into the event knowing they were going to all be very strong competitors,” Miller said. “Winning was fun, but it wasn’t all about winning.”
He began competing at four years old in his country.
“It’s just so cool to work my way into the American lifesaving community and I’ve always wanted to come over here and race and to finally do it is quite cool,” Miller said.
His win in the Ironman event was probably the difference. He won in a close finish over Hemmens on the run up the beach. Miller also won the run-board-run-board-run and the board race.
Hemmens, who was overall men’s champion in 2016 and finished second last year, won the surf race (swim) and the run-swim-run and had the same amount of points at the end. But it was not enough as he finished second for the second straight year.
“I am bummed I didn’t win overall, but this event is more of a fun day of racing with friends and family and a day of learning and teaching more about this amazing sport than it is about winning overall points,” Hemmens said.
He spoke highly of Miller.
“In the end, it is no surprise that Hamish Miller was the person who I was battling for the overall win,” Hemmens said. “If I was to lose to anybody, I am honored that it was to him. He is a great competitor and a very kind, humble and generous person that I am happy to call my friend.”
He lost the lead and then was able to make up for it to get the win in the surf race.
“I led around the cans and got passed by Pat Kilgallen on the way in,” Hemmens explained. “He’s a great swimmer and always pushing, but I was able to outrun him up the beach to take the win.”
In the other victory, he was not the fastest into the water, but was at the finish line.
“I wasn’t the first to enter the water so had some room to make up,” Hemmens said. “I rounded the cans even with first, who I believe was Kevin Fink and Hamish Miller. I ended up swimming away from them on the way in so I had a more comfortable finish.”
In the women’s competition, Jenna Solberg of Torrance, who works as a lifeguard in the South Bay, became a back-to-back champion even though she did not win a single event.
“It’s always fun to win, but the competition is not really about that for me,” Solberg said. “Winning is obviously just a plus.”
Solberg was consistently near the top and accumulated numerous points. She was second in five events, which included the swim, board, run-board-run-board-run, run-swim-run and another event. She was third in the surf ski.
Solberg said her biggest passion is surf racing.
“I actually grew up doing this race,” Solberg said. “It just means a lot to me being in my hometown.”
Her best chance at winning was the run-swim-run, but she was beat on the run up the beach by a young competitor and finished second.
“She absolutely ran me down,” Solberg said of the junior guard.
Her father Mel Solberg, who is a long-time South Bay lifeguard, competitor in lifesaving, is very proud of his daughter’s accomplishments.
“She has done so well the last few years in all these surf lifesaving events,” he said. “She just keeps getting better and better each year. Her enthusiasm for the sport is what I love to see. She just loves getting out there and she works out and trains hard and that is fun to watch.”
Mel, who is 53, ended up winning the waterman’s relay which consists of rowing around one lap and then paddle around for one lap and then swim one lap and then end with one lap in the boat-paddle-surf ski-boat relay with his event partner Jeff Lombardo from Manhattan Beach.
“We were in second or third place most of the race,” said Solberg, who competed in eight events. “On the last lap we ended up in the lead and ended up winning.”
The pair also took second and third in both three-lap dory boat events for three top-three finishes on the day.
Miller’s girlfriend Eva Goodisson, who is also 19 and from New Zealand, is a triathlon competitor and gave it her best shot in several events. She finished fifth in the run-swim-run.
“The competition was fun, conditions were good,” Goodisson said.
“Overall, the event was very well run and I am very thankful that Mike Murphy began this event 13 years ago and that Tim Burdiak is keeping this great event going every year,” Hemmens said.
Hemmens has competed in 10 of the events beginning when he was 12.
“As long as this event continues I will always be participating,” he said.