2023 Sunshine State Games Begin with Open Water Events in Cocoa Beach
The difference between the Sunshine State Games sports of the Beach ‘N Boards Fest events on Cocoa Beach were like the difference between night and day.
Open Water swimmers literally began gathering at the Cocoa Beach Aquatic Center Pavilion in the dark of night due to Saturday night’s spring forward for Daylight Savings Time. The swimmers were looking directly into the rising sun as they began their 1500 at themeter swim at 8:00 a.m.
The surfing and volleyball events began well after the sun came up.
There were no waves on the Indian River Lagoon, nor were there large crowds on the beach, like at Shepard Park on Cocoa Beach four miles away.
There was, however, the same level of competitiveness in both locations.
In the 1 ½ mile total Stand Up Paddleboard competition that followed the Open Water Swim, athletes completed four laps of the 200 meter bow tie course (800 meters total or ½ mile), in three different races. The top men’s and women’s times were both under 21 minutes, for approximately 6:30 times for each of the three races, according to Race Director Danny Smith, of the Paddle Sports League.
While Brian Gemmill’s total time on the course was 20:19 as the best overall time, it was Seychelle Webster’s total time for the 12 laps at 20:41, which was more impressive.
Webster (pictured above), originally from Key Largo, now living in Melbourne, was a World Champion and “Fastest Female Paddler in the World,” in 2019. She also holds a Guinness Book of World Records for the longest paddle in 24 hours.
Her racing has been held to a minimum since 2019 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2020 and becoming a mother in 2022. Her World Champion status, from 2016-19, brought her to paddling races all over the world.
“I’ve traveled all over Europe and my favorite was racing in Asia, especially Japan,” she said, after her third race of the day, but staying in the water to cheer on the remaining women’s racers. “I’ve raced in some pretty cool places, like the Thames and Seine Rivers and in a race around the Statue of Liberty.”
The bow tie course provided challenges for the paddlers as they had to maneuver four sharp turns, at times with other paddlers making the turns alongside them. The turns required the paddlers to alternate paddling on both sides of their boards while doing some fancy footwork to keep their balance.
Visit www.paddlesportsleague.com for complete results from the Sunshine State Games Stand Up Paddleboard races.
John Dissinger, of Kingwood, Texas, was the top overall finisher in the 1500 meter early morning swim, with a time of 18:22.6, edging David Armstrong, a student at Florida Tech University, in Melbourne, originally from Cypress, Texas, by four seconds.
Both of the swimmers have ties to Florida and Texas and found themselves competing in Cocoa Beach on Sunday morning. Dissinger grew up in Lakeland and attended Lakeland High School. He was a collegiate swimmer at Western Kentucky University. Armstrong, a Texas native, now swims at Florida Tech. Their Texas residences are both in the Houston metropolitan area.
The top women’s finisher was Joanna Dagenais, originally from Ironwood, Michigan, in the state’s upper peninsula, who now lives in Melbourne, with a time of 22:09.3.
All three are lifelong swimmers who found themselves at the Sunshine State Games in Cocoa Beach, on Sunday. All swimmers competed the two laps of the 650 meter course, with 200 meters of swimming out and back to the finish line in under 40 minutes.
Dagenais will be competing in the Palm Beaches Triathlon next weekend but is not looking forward to the running part of the race.
“I’m not a runner,” she said. “Luckily it’s a sprint triathlon and it’s only a 5K road race.”
Sunday’s Sunshine State Games events were part of the 2023 Beach ‘N Board Fest, that also featured Surfing, Beach Volleyball, a 5K Road Race, a Yoga event on the beach and a Kayak Fishing Tournament.
Event organizer Mitch Varnes called the Beach ‘N Boards Fest, the Biggest Spring Break Sporting Event in the Nation, drawing 8-10,000 attendees to Cocoa Beach during each of the four days of competition. With 50 high school beach volleyball teams in action and 160 kayak fisherman in the Indian River Lagoon, on Saturday, both of those events were the largest events of their kind in Florida, according to Varnes.
Registration for additional 2023 Sunshine State Games is now available for events being held April through June. The next event on the Sunshine State Games calendar is an AAU Grand Prix event in Orlando, April 18-19. Visit www.sunshinestategames.com for competition and registration information.
The Sunshine State Games is an annual Olympic-style Sports Festival for amateur athletes of all ages. Now in its 44th year, dating back to 1980, the Sunshine State Games is the longest continuously-running State Games in the U.S. The 2023 Sunshine State Game is held in conjunction with the Gainesville Sports Commission, Central Florida’s Polk County Sports Marketing, Visit Lauderdale, Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) and Earl Enterprises.