John Evans pulled himself out of the water and trotted up a boat ramp and under an inflatable arch serving as the finish line.
The red digits on the clock showed he finished in well under an hour -- 52:03, to be exact -- good enough to win the seventh annual Beaufort River Swim and not a bad substitute for practice.
The 16-year-old Evans and many of his Bluffton Fins teammates were last-minute additions after coach Eric Kemeny told them they could swap the open-water swim for regular pool time.
"The hardest part was getting out of the water," said Evans, who swam the race for the first time. "It felt like you couldn't stand up."
The course spanned a little more than three miles, from Port Royal Landing to Beaufort Downtown Marina, with the tide. Close to 150 swimmers were registered and waited close to an hour for the tide to change in their favor before jumping in.
Twenty-year-old Megan Ciampa was the top female finisher. The Kentucky native finished in 53:37, sixth overall.
Swimmers battled choppy water after rounding the bend. But Evans managed to find another gear after the final buoy, opening a large gap in front of 53-year-old runner-up Bruce Herman.
Herman, a Utah resident swimming the race for the third time, finished in 52:51 to claim second and earn a bobblehead doll for winning his age group. Herman schedules his Hilton Head Island vacation to coincide with the race.
"The swimming community is such a nice community," Herman said. "It attracts fun people and people out looking for an adventure on a Saturday morning like this."
The former University of North Carolina swimmer quit the Tar Heels team after a year to focus on medical school, but still finds competitive outlets, swimming distance events in and around his home state.
Some races are more than twice as long as the Beaufort River Swim, including the Great Salt Lake Open Water, which goes more than eight miles.
That doesn't mean Saturday's race was a sprint.
"It got long in the end," Herman said. "But when you were out in the tide, you could definitely feel it."
Evans and the Fins' other first-timers heard the race was long, but found the water smoother than expected for much of the race. Evans had swam in open water events in triathlons, but nothing like Saturday.
"I liked this," Evans said. "I'm probably going to do it next year."
7th-ANNUAL BEAUFORT RIVER SWIM
John Evans, 52:03
Bruce Herman, 52:51
Jake Minasi, 53:12
Mike Reid, 53:30
Matthew Fansler, 53:33
Megan Ciampa, 53:37
Anna Tommerdahl, 53:35
Sam Meigran, 53:42
Cheryl Reinke, 54:24
David Funk, 54:29
Katherine Denmead, 54:31
Lynnette Hennessey, 54:44
Nicholas Suaza, 54:56
Kristin Denney, 55:06
Yorlliry Moreno, 55:46
Laura Seifert, 56:00
Whit Walker, 56:32
Carlton Bruner, 57:19
Clayton Boyles, 57:21
Ryan Greely, 57:23