For 47 years, the Great Freeport Canoe Race has been a summer highlight, where residents and racers from surrounding communities come to the village’s beautiful waterfront for a memorable day on the water.
Guy Lombardo launched the first Grande Course de Canoë in 1975.
In most years, Waterfront Park at the foot of South Long Beach Avenue has served as the start and finish point for the race. In 2018, and again this year on August 7, organizer Marianne Endo dropped off the start and finish flags from the dock overlooking the beach at Cow Meadow Park.
Freeport took over Cow Meadow from Nassau County in February and upgraded the entire park. “Rob Fisenne with DPW, they had this beach leveled with fresh sand for us,” said John Nuzzi Sr., former president and current director of the Chamber of Commerce. “It really was a job of dynamite.”
The Chamber, the Freeport Police Athletic League and the Village of Freeport co-sponsored the event.
Cheerful paddlers of all skill levels were pushed back from shore by Nuzzi, House Speaker Ben Jackson, First Vice President Ken Dookram, Third Vice President Jacques Butler and villagers who came to help.
Freeport Police Community Affairs Division Constable Bobby Ford along with Constables Donnetta Cumberbatch and Samantha Sepulveda brought in teenagers who attend PAL. Each teenager settled into a canoe with one of the adults and paddled through the bright, calm water, rounding the two buoys marking the route before returning exuberantly back to shore.
Endo was glad the teenagers came. “Our community is surrounded by water,” she said. “These kids should be exposed to it.”
The scorching sun and 90-degree temperatures didn’t deter Congresswoman Judy Griffin from racing lawmaker Steve Rhoads and Officer Ford, with “a lot of kibbutzah.” No winner was declared. Village administrators Chris Squeri and Jorge Martinez stood on the sand, cheering on the competitors.
Most canoes sliced cleanly through the low waves around each buoy and returned triumphantly to the launch point, but a few mistakes did occur. A dinghy headed for the wrong buoy. Two canoes almost collided at the bend. A canoe teetered along the shore, while observers on the beach shouted, “Paddle left!” Now the right!” The accidental coastal explorers were eventually towed away by one of the two fire boats stationed near the race course.
“Love it,” said Jorge Ricky Flores, a South Bellmore resident who, along with his 7-year-old son Josiah, took second place in their heat. “Any type of community event, we support. Today we enjoyed a beautiful day and a beautiful view.
“We just want to join the community, do whatever we can to have fun with the community,” said Gordon Guo, who lives in Gordon Place with his wife Ming Wu and son Jason.
“Compared to Waterfront Park,” Nuzzi said, “there’s a bit more tide, more speed with the breeze blowing towards Freeport off the water. It is a challenge for rowers. But it is a phenomenal sight.
Nuzzi thanked Kennedy, the Village Council, the Freeport DPW and the Freeport Fire Department for their support of the race. “But…I miss Les,” Nuzzi said. Lester Endo, Marianne’s husband, was an integral part of the races until his death last summer.
“I was in the water with Les for the past 37 years,” Nuzzi said. ” It’s hard. Last year’s canoe race, he was there. He has just been released from the hospital. He had stents put in. And then about a week later he passed away.
Everyone felt the Endo’s smiling presence as Marianne presented the first, second and third place medals.
“It’s supposed to be a fun and happy day on the water in Freeport,” said Marianne, “and that’s exactly what happened.”