Swimmers fanned out across the sand, sprinting toward the wavy waters to compete in the 1.7-mile Pier-2-Pier open water race at Wrightsville Beach Saturday morning, Sept. 15.
Two waves of swimmers, 18 and younger and 19 and older, adorned in green and yellow swim caps left Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and headed south to Crystal Pier.
Koya Osada, 16, was the first swimmer out of the 18 and younger age group to make it to shore and run across the finish line with a time of 32:40.
“The waves are huge today,” he said. “It was hard to see the buoy at the end.”
He came with a group of 30 swimmers from Duke Aquatics in Durham.
“I don’t really consider myself an open water swimmer,” Osada said, adding that he did not come to the race with any expectations.
After the race, he and the other swimmers from Durham headed to the beach to have some fun and bond as a team.
Dan O’Connor, a 20-year-old from Syracuse, N.Y., was the top overall male after finishing in 30:22. The top overall female was Kelsey Cummings, a 19-year-old from El Segundo, Calif., who finished the race in 31:25.
Emma Nunn and Kendall Surhoff, 18-year-old members of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill swim team, finished second and third in their age group after a jellyfish stung both during their swims.
“I just swam into the middle of the water,” Nunn said. “I kept getting lost.”
But Surhoff said she followed Nunn for the duration of the race, and they finished within one second of each other.
Paddleboarders, kayakers and boaters lined the waters and lifeguards lined the shores to ensure the safety of racers along the route.
Moments before lining up for the race, Wilmington resident Suzy Bucierka was getting ready to race for the sixth time in the Pier-2-Pier. The 33-year-old said it was her goal to not get stung.
In 2011 at a different race, Bucierka was stung by a Portuguese man-of-war.
“My goal is to have fun amongst the swimming community,” she said. “I’ve swam my whole life. I swam in college.”
She participated in sprint races before she moved to the Wilmington area and got involved in open water competitions. On Sept. 26, Bucierka will compete again during Swim the Loop, a 3.5-mile race around Harbor Island.
John Jewell stood out in the crowd in a brightly colored Speedo with a puzzle print before the race began.
“I’m going for the wildest suit on the beach,” Jewell said.
Jewell was the race director for the second year of the swim, but served as a volunteer ambassador this time around, said Shannon Berg, director of operations at the YMCA.
The race brought 298 participants from the local area and across the state to Wrightsville Beach.
A younger competitor, 12-year-old Gina Myers, said it was her goal to finish the race. She came with 10 fellow swimmers from YMCA TYDE in Winston-Salem.
Pier-2-Pier was the longest race she has competed in with five years of competitive swimming experience. Myers has been swimming since she was only 6 years old.
As swimmers were coming across the finish line, Joe Herzberg, race director, said the weather was perfect for the event, not super hot and the waves were good. The number of participants, he said, is the largest it has been in three years.
“We’ll continue to do it as long as we have community support,” Herzberg said.
The race benefits the Cape Fear Aquatics Club and is held in memory of Ryan Alea Young, a University of North Carolina Wilmington swimmer who died in a car accident in February 2009.