Semana Nautica: Old titles defended, new champions crowned

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Two weeks of sporting events making up the 78th Semana Nautica Summer Sports Festival in Santa Barbara stirred up another action-packed and exciting festival filled with intense competition and impressive athletic achievement.

Taylor Steffen and Karen Schultz were the dominant swimmers in 2015. Steffen won all five ocean-swimming races that he entered while Schultz won four of six and placed second in another. The two earned new titles as the 2015 Semana Nautica Ocean Swimmers of the Year. Offering seven ocean-swimming competitions over 12 days, ranging from 1k to 6-mile distances, Semana Nautica’s concentration of open-water swimming races attracts athletes from all over California and beyond.

Other events saw familiar athletes repeat as champions. Curly Guillen and Annie O’Donnell shared top honors at the 4th of July 15k running race for the second year in a row. Cuyler Gabriel captured the 5-mile biathlon in consecutive years. On the festival’s second weekend, the beach volleyball duo of Katie Spieler and Torrey Van Winden won the Santa Barbara CBVA Open again, defeating a pregnant Patti Cook and a newlywed Dana Kobashima in the championship match.

Below are some recaps from select Semana Nautica events.

Mullen & Henzell 1-Mile Ocean Swim

Taylor Steffen followed the lead of Alex Roderick at the start, powered to the front and stayed there to capture the Mullen and Henzell 1-mile ocean swim in cool, and clear water on Saturday, July 11.

Steffen, a 16-year-old home-schooled kid from Goleta, swam a personal best of 18 minutes, 56 seconds. Sean Apsey and Roderick, Steffen’s Santa Barbara Swim Club teammates, finished second and third, respectively, in 19:08 and 19:13. Roderick won the 6-mile ocean swim last week.

The women’s winner (and ninth overall) was Courtney Weigand of San Diego in 21:16. Karen Schultz, the women’s champion in the 6-mile ocean swim, finished second, three seconds behind (21:19), and Kristina Hill came in third (21:35).

3-Mile Ocean Swim

One day after winning the 1-Mile Swim, Taylor Steffen returned to the water to win another Semana Nautica event.

Steffen can thank a curious sea lion for giving him a burst of energy as he made his away around the final buoy near Stearns Wharf and headed for home on Sunday, July 12.

“Two minutes before I rounded the pier buoy, I saw this sea lion pop up and I got pretty freaked out,” said Steffen, 16, after winning his fifth Semana Nautica ocean swim event. “After that I didn’t look down in the water. I swam with my head up and sprinted. My mom told me afterward that the sea lion had been swimming with me for about five minutes.”

The encounter with the mammal enabled Steffen to pull away from the field and win the longest competitive swim of his life, three miles,  in 1 hour, 5 minutes, 23 seconds.

The top three finishers were the same as Saturday’s mile swim. Steffen finished ahead of his Santa Barbara Swim Club teammates Sean Apsey and Alex Roderick. Apsey came in second at 1:07.55 and Roderick was third in 1:08.01. Next came the 35-39 age-group swimmers: Arjun McAvoy placed fourth in 1:08.16 and Ed Smith took fifth in 1:08.39. Dylan Apsey, another teen from the swim club, was sixth (1:11.22).

6-Mile Ocean Swim

Alex Roderick had been thinking about doing the Semana Nautica 6-mile ocean swim for a year. He was up for it last summer, but at 16 he didn’t meet the event’s minimum age requirement for participation.

Now eligible to enter at 17, the Santa Barbara High senior-to-be took the plunge in the cold water and won the challenging swim from the Goleta Beach Pier to Arroyo Burro Beach in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 16 seconds.

Local triathlete Karen Schultz – who would later win the three-mile race on the festival’s second weekend – was the women’s winner and placed sixth overall in 2:13.45.

Arjun McAvoy, clad in a red, white and blue, star-spangled USA swim suit, was the second finisher in 2:09.47; Moby Coquilland placed third in 2:11.11; Ed Smith was fourth in 2:13.06 and Dr. John Chung came in fifth in 2:13.32.

Forty-two of the 43 entrants completed the race, held on Sunday, July 5.

Semana Nautica 4th of July 15k

Familiar faces filled the winner’s circle at the Semana Nautica 4th of July 15k as Curly Guillen and Annie O’Donnell won for the second consecutive year.

Guillen, who is in the middle of training for October’s Chicago Marathon and the U.S. Olympic Trials in February, lowered his time from last year to finish in 47 minutes and 50 seconds. Carlos Carballo came in second with a time of 48:33, followed by third-place finisher Ben Li at 51.19.

The distance was just a small piece of Guillen’s weekly preparation for running marathons. He’s currently covering 90 miles per week leading up to Chicago. His best finish at a major marathon was 18th overall earlier this year at the Los Angeles Marathon.

“I’m deep in heavy training right now, 90 miles a week, so my legs are tired,” Guillen said.

It didn’t help that he was racing on four hours of sleep. Guillen is a popular DJ in Santa Barbara who worked until 2 a.m. the night before.

“It’s perfect training for the marathon because I have to learn how to push when I’m tired,” Guillen said.

Guillen, 33, led start to finish, consciously beginning fast to see if anyone in the field could hang. His first mile was 4 minutes and 55 seconds, a pace that evened out to 5:08 per mile by the end of the race.

O’Donnell is a former NCAA cross country runner from Davidson College. Like Guillen, she’s getting ready for a bigger race as she’s planning on doing her first triathlon in August.

“I enjoy running but I’m ready to try something new too,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell’s winning time was 58:29, good for 14th overall.

5-Mile Biathlon

Santa Barbara’s Cuyler Gabriel made it two for two in the Semana Nautica Biathlon, defending his title in 2015 by beating out Kyle Visin, Scott Mahan and Ed Smith .

Gabriel, a recent graduate of Santa Barbara High, was clocked covering the 4-mile beach run and 1-mile ocean swim in 45 minutes and 17 seconds. Gabriel led from very early on but felt Visin drafting behind him on the run.

“I ran well. I got into a good rhythm,” Gabriel said. “Me and Kyle Visin, we pushed each other.”

The race began with the four-mile run starting in front of the Cabrillo Bath House. The athletes ran on the hard sand near the waterline the length of East Beach and back before the swim leg. A steady onshore wind created a headwind during the run and some chop on the water.

“The last mile or so (of the run) I pushed really hard to try and make him work harder because I knew I would gain an advantage on a swim. And then, just got in the water and tried to feel like myself. It was hard to do that with the conditions,” Gabriel explained.

He opened up a slight lead at the end of the run and extended it to almost three minutes during the swim.

Visin’s time was 48:08, Mahan 49.50 and Smith 51.07.

Danielle Lipski and Heather Roger were the only females in the field, coming in together at just under 1:04.

CBVA Women’s Open

It came down to a family final at the California Beach Volleyball Association Santa Barbara Women’s Open.

On one side of the net, you had cousins Katie Spieler and Torrey Van Winden defending their title on home sand. On the other side, there was Patti Cook, 12 weeks pregnant with her third child, and partner Dana Kobashima, a newlywed who was married just two days earlier.

After celebrating on Friday night, recovering on Saturday and battling through some tough competition on a warm Sunday afternoon, the local teams ended up playing a three-set final in front of the Cabrillo Bath House. Spieler and Van Winden won a tight first set and rebounded from a resounding second-set defeat to repeat as Santa Barbara Open champions. The set scores were 22-20, 9-21, 15-10.

The fifth-seeded Spieler-Van Winden went on a 5-1 run down the stretch in the third set.

“It’s surreal,” said the 6-4 Van Winden, a senior in high school in Napa. “It’s awesome playing with Katie. The cousin stuff and the honor of playing on her home beach with all the support from the sidelines all day is great.”

Spieler said playing Cook and Kabashima in an all-local final was special.

“It was crazy it was an all-Santa Barbara final,” she said. “If you go down the coast, that never happens. It’s never two local teams. It’s a testament to how good the players are in Santa Barbara, and we’re just blessed to live her and play each other.”

CBVA Men’s Open

Mark Burik and Curt Toppel traveled from Los Angeles to capture the Santa Barbara CBVA championship and the $1,500 prize that goes with it. The tenacity of Burik brought out the best in Toppel.

With Burik covering the back court like a free safety, groveling on the sand to scoop crushing spikes and running down balls off blocks, Toppel stepped up his game and is finishing plays.

The top-seeded pair worked together beautifully in Saturday’s final of the California Beach Volleyball Association Santa Barbara Men’s Open and took down second-seeded Hawk Hatcher and Parker Kalmbach, 21-15, 21-17, in front of the Cabrillo Bath House.

“We’ve struggled to be really consistent in tournaments, and this was one where the entire the way through we were really strong and played steady,” said Burik.

“We played a consistent game all day, and my partner here did an excellent job siding out because I don’t get served that much,” said the 6-9 Toppel.