A sign prohibiting swimming at Woodlawn Beach on Sunday due to health concerns didn’t keep people out of the water.
They just had to use kayaks.
The occasion was Labatt Blue’s second-annual kayak regatta at Woody’s Beach Club. Racers competed for trophies and prizes in mile-long races that began and ended at shore, with proceeds going to the Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Company.
Turnout was down from last year’s races because of cool weather, choppy water and the swimming ban. Coordinators had hoped casual beachgoers would see the regatta, sign up for the races and rent kayaks, as the event was open to all skill levels.
The weather and waves didn’t stop 13 racers, most of them dedicated kayakers, from competing in four heats organized by gender and by whether the kayaks had rudders. Between registration fees, boat rentals and other donations, Labatt Blue District Manager Izzy Rufat expected to raise between $500 and $1,000 for the volunteer firefighters.
Patti Zander, of Tonawanda, won the first heat for kayaks with rudders. She’s been kayaking for seven years, but Sunday’s event was her first race. Zander first kayaked while on vacation in the Adirondack Mountains, and she’s been at it ever since.
The wind Sunday produced choppy waves that made racing more challenging, but Zander said she enjoyed it.
“I like the water when it’s like this,” she said after the race.
Margaret Kraatz, of Buffalo, was the runner-up to Zander and finished first last year. She also began kayaking on vacation, in the Outer Banks, and she, too, enjoyed Sunday’s challenging conditions.
“It’s more of an adventure this year,” Kraatz said.
The male winner of the first rudderless race was Jeremy Woolson, of Fredonia, who improved his performance from last year, when he came in second. He said the lack of a rudder magnified the imperfect conditions.
“You have to cope with the wind and waves a lot more directly with the paddle,” Woolson said of having no rudder. “You have to work a lot harder.”
Racers had to sign a waiver indicating that they were entering the lake at their own risk, said Lisa Potter, who works as an event coordinator for the Town of Hamburg and helped organize the regatta.
“You’re pretty safe in a kayak, unless you tip,” she said.
As the kayakers raced, Charles Zahn Jr. of the Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Company gave a demonstration of how firefighters pump water out of the lake at a rate of 300 gallons per minute when responding to fires on the beach, which he said happen almost daily.
“Some people come down to build fires, and they get out of control,” Zahn said.
Zahn said the firefighters hope to use the proceeds from the event to help fund a mobile vehicle that can drive onto the beach. Right now, firefighters have to park the truck in the parking lot and lug the equipment down to the water, Zahn said.
Despite the low turnout, Zahn was thankful for a donation of any kind, and the kayakers enjoyed the sun and the competition.
“It’s too bad more people don’t participate,” Kraatz said.