DeBoer, Bray take first in Dory Boat races after one teammate’s two-year health battle
By Cari Hachmann
Salt-and-sweat-glistened athletes young and old gave it their all this past weekend at the San Clemente Ocean Festival, amid blue skies, near perfect summer weather yet small, choppy surf. Hundreds of spectators, families and friends lined the pier and shoreline to watch two jam-packed days of competitions in swimming, surfing, fishing, running, dory boat racing, paddle boarding, lifeguard rescue relays, tandem boogie bodyboarding, sand sculptures and more.
Congratulations to the winners and everyone who competed in the annual “Greatest Show on Surf,” and many thanks to the organizers and volunteers who made the event what it is. While it wasn’t easy to pick a particular success story, there was one pair of athletes who stood out in their glory.
Sporting stars and stripes on their helmets, Dane DeBoer and James Bray emerged as winners of the two Dory Boat races, despite DeBoer returning from life-changing health concerns and injuries. The team of 55-year-old DeBoer and 34-year-old Bray, both San Clemente natives, last raced together at Ocean Festival in 2016, where they finished first and second in the dory boat races, and that year also won the Surf Boat Championship at the USLA National Lifeguard Championships in Hermosa Beach.
The following year, DeBoer suffered two heart attacks and in April 2017 a bad motorcycle accident landed him in a hospital bed for three and a half months, with his femur broken in four places.
But DeBoer recovered and found the strength and motivation to get back into training.
“It’s been two years and six months of comeback, and James took me back,” said DeBoer, all smiles as he turned to his racing partner on Saturday after their second win in two races with eight other teams.
“This guy is an inspiration,” said Bray. “He’s almost twice my age, and he’s still kicking ass.”
DeBoer said he is equally inspired by Bray, who was a three-time defending champion of the Open American Ironman title at the USLA National Lifeguard Championships and took home the gold for American Ironman on Saturday. Bray now lives in Santa Barbara, where he works as a full-time lifeguard for California State Parks. However, both men said San Clemente—and the Ocean Festival—is a special place for them, because they grew up spending years on the ocean here as lifeguards.
“For the NDA (National Dorymen’s Association) and the guys that row, this is kind of a super bowl for our circuit,” said Bray. “To be able to come back from two years off, and get back in the boat today and take both races, is amazing.”
DeBoer said after he got the clean bill of health from his cardiologist, he called Bray three weeks before Saturday’s race and told him the news. The two squeezed in four training sessions before the big day.
“You can see how much teamwork it takes to get successfully through one of these races,” said DeBoer. “There are so many factors that could have sent it in a negative direction, but I think the positive vibes and the fact that King Neptune and the ocean shined on us today . . . life is good. Life is even better when you take home a win with this guy.”
Bray said in years past, there have been far larger waves at Ocean Fest, but the weekend’s conditions produced great surf for the many different events.
“With two- to three-foot waves, it’s just challenging enough that it can easily flip boats and it can drastically change the way events go if you are fortunate enough to be on the right spot on a wave,” Bray said.
DeBoer, a paramedic firefighter in Los Angeles County, said unfortunately with his injuries and heart issues, he won’t ever be getting back on the rig and has taken lighter duty assignments for now.
“Health is everything,” he said.
But he plans to continue living every day to the fullest, and that includes rowing with Bray.
“We happen to love enjoying the competition—this is such a unique sport; I’m glad we found it,” DeBoer said.