Q: Lifeguard races are huge here, but a lot of people from Philadelphia don't know about them.
Gowdy: Locally, they're a huge deal. Every beach patrol sends their best athletes. We have a real big turnout; usually a couple thousand people come to the major races. Just a lot of fathers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, all who have been lifeguards. So it's kind of like a family tradition to come down and support and compete in lifeguard races.
Q: Tell me about last season's races. You basically killed it.
Gowdy: My partner and I had a real good season. After years and years of rowing, we've homed in on certain races to be ready for. The South Jersey's is the main race, and the Margates, the Wildwoods. The A.C. Classic is also when we get all the patrols up here. Last year, at the South Jersey championships, we won the doubles race, but overall Ocean City and Upper Township tied for the team title. (Ocean City got the official win via a tie breaker.) We won the Margate Memorials, the Wildwoods, and the A.C.'s.
Q: Ashton is 32, you're 31 - relatively old for this. What's your secret?
Gowdy: This is more like a college athlete's kind of sport. The secret is prepare. We rowed today. You have to get out there, you have to put time in the boat. A lot of training goes on in the off-season. You try to peak at the right time. We're kind of realizing when to turn it on.
Q: Are these kids surprised to see you there?
Gowdy: The beach is really tight-knit. We all pretty much know each other, went to high school together, we hang out together. There's always a newcomer that comes out, a college kid that's fresh and hungry, that shocks the world.
Q: When the beach patrol hires, is it like also drafting good competitors?
Gowdy: Oh yeah.
Q: Does it always correspond that a good competitor is a good lifeguard?
Gowdy: In my eyes it does. You're into lifeguarding if you're racing. You're spending the time. If you're out competing, you know what to look for, you know riptides and undertows. You know the ocean, you know the beach.
Q: And you have the most titles?
Gowdy: Last year, I got my ninth South Jersey. Ashton's got 8, and his brother Dave from Ventnor has 8. We're all neck and neck. I can only imagine what's said at the Funk family dinner table on certain holidays.
Q: Are they mad that you've got nine and they both have eight?
Gowdy: Nah. Of course everyone wants the most. One year, Ashton didn't row. I rowed singles and I think I picked it up that year. Dave's an awesome competitor. I've learned a lot from watching a lot of the different Funks.
Q: Last year, at the South Jerseys, there were some choppy seas, a few stray flashes of lightning, no big deal. Do you remember how it finished?
Gowdy: Ashton and I, we like to jump out and get a lead, or at least be near the lead. And turn it around after the flag. We finished hard last year. We really didn't get a wave but we had enough of a lead to hold off the second-place crew.
Q: And who was that?
Gowdy: It was Ventnor; it was Ashton's brother, Dave, and Matt Given.
Q: Sometimes these boats get way off course.
Gowdy: All that factors in. If you're winning by a couple of feet, those couple of feet that you're off course makes a difference.
Q: Is there a science to catching the wave at the right time?
Gowdy: You want to pick up your rate and really try to hump the wave out. And get as much strokes, because the wave's definitely going to speed you up, and you can win or lose races by that. A lot of guys who've raced for years now have said they've won or lost on waves. There's definitely not a dull moment. Especially when you get through the surf and if there's waves out there, you're in for a show.
Interview has been condensed
2014 lifeguard races
This year's lifeguard races, courtesy of the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association (SJLCA.com). Ocean City and Upper Township will defend their joint victory Aug. 8.
7/3 Cape May County Championships, Wildwood Crest, 6:30 p.m.
7/8 Longport Women's Race, Longport, 6:30 p.m.
7/9 Superathalon, Cape May, 6 p.m.
7/10 Chief Bill Kuhn Lifeguard Invitational, Brigantine, 6 p.m.
7/11 Beschen-Callahan Races, North Wildwood, 6 p.m.
7/11 Captain Michael D. McGrath Longport Memorials, Longport, 6:30 p.m.
7/12 Sea Isle City Ocean Swim, 5:30 p.m.
7/14 Tri-Resorts Championships, Wildwood, 6:30 p.m.
7/18 Atlantic City Lifeguard Classic, Atlantic City, 6:30 p.m.
7/19 Ocean City Masters Swim, Ocean City, 10 a.m.
7/22 Six Mile Bay Race, Upper Township, 6 p.m.
7/23 Ocean City Women's Race, Ocean City, 6:15 p.m.
7/25 Dutch Hoffman Memorials, Wildwood, 6:30 p.m.
7/27 South Jersey Pool Championships, Ocean City, 6:30 p.m.
7/28 Cape May Point Women's Lifeguard Challenge, Cape May Point, 6:30 p.m.
8/1 Margate Memorials, Margate, 6:30 p.m.
8/2 Captain Bill Gallagher 10 Mile Island Run, Sea Isle City, 5:45 p.m.
8/3 Kerr Memorials, Avalon, 6:15 p.m.
8/6 Ventnor Women's Race, Ventnor, 6:30 p.m.
8/8 South Jersey Championships, Ocean City, 6:30 p.m.
8/9 Harry Yates Memorial Swim, Atlantic City, 10 a.m.
8/11 Around the Island Row, North Wildwood, 8 a.m.
8/12 Tri-Wood Lifeguard rowing Championships, Wildwood, 6:15 p.m.
8/15 Goudy Memorial Rescue Races, Ventnor, 6:30 p.m.
8/21 Hammer Row, Longport, 6:15 p.m.
8/30 82d ACBP Pageant Swim, 10 a.m.
- Amy S. Rosenberg