After much anticipation and hype about a new off-road triathlon coming to the Big Island, the wait is finally over.
Triathlon and mountain biking adventurists no longer need to venture off-island for a qualifying race to the XTERRA World Championships held each year on our neighbor island of Maui.
On Aug. 26, Aloha Sports Kona (ASK) will organize the Big Island’s first qualifier — XTERRA Hawaii Island.
The inaugural race will offer 25 qualifying slots to the XTERRA World Championships slated for Oct. 28, and will feature a half-mile rough water ocean swim beginning and ending at Hapuna Beach, followed by a grueling two loop, 10-mile bike course traversing over Hapuna Beach Park State land, and then finishing off with a pulverizing 3.1-mile run at Hapuna Beach Resort.
For Janet Higa-Miller and her husband Grant Miller, co-founders of ASK, being able to offer the Big Island athletic community an opportunity to qualify for the XTERRA World Championships in their own backyard is a dream fueled by a passion for off-road adventures. And that dream, will soon become reality.
“It’s been very exciting as the Big Island people will no longer need to travel to a qualifier,” Higa-Miller said. “I did the first-ever AquaTerra in 1996 and it was the first ever off-road triathlon. Grant had introduced me to mountain biking and I was just coming off of triathlon after doing my first Ironman (World Championship) in 1994. Getting out in the forest and getting dirty, learning skills and going off-road was something that Grant and I always loved to do. It was always our first passion.
“And now we feel we are coming around full circle to it. We feel that we can get other people on board by the lure of having qualifying slots to the XTERRA World Championships in Maui. It has been this huge snowball that has gained momentum ever since Bill McMahon (Hilo High School cross-country and track coach and multiple XTERRA World Championship finisher) emailed me and said, ‘Hey can you do a Hawaii Island Qualifier? I’ve got the potential for 25 slots.’ And ever since, it’s been one thing after another falling into place for this event to happen.”
About the XTERRA World Championships
What began in 1996 as a one-off race held at beautiful Wailea on the island of Maui with just 114 competitors, has now exploded into an endurance lifestyle brand with worldwide appeal.
Originally named AquaTerra, multisport fanatics were introduced to a bold new racing format that combined the gritty and technical skills of a mountain biker with the meticulous dedication and drive of a triathlete into one race for a duel of the fittest.
That year, 114 competitors earned bragging rights for finishing the first-ever off-road triathlon comprised of a .93-mile rough water swim, a thrilling 18-mile mountain bike race with an elevation gain of 3,500 feet, followed by a grueling 8.06-mile trail run.
In the years that followed, AquaTerra was renamed XTERRA and the popularity of the race spread like wildfire. Japanese automaker, Nissan Motor Company, renamed their most popular sport utility vehicle after the race in 1999 and called it the Nissan XTERRA. Nissan then became the race series’ primary sponsor for nearly a decade.
Kailua-Kona’s Higa-Miller was one of the competitors who finished the inaugural AquaTerra race in 1996. While the beauty of Maui Island along with its rugged and challenging tropical terrain was enough to capture her adventurous spirit, it was the race itself that took hold of her heart.
“I just remember it being all so new,” said the three-time Ironman World Championship finisher and impressively, 9-time XTERRA World Championship finisher. “It was the first ever off-road triathlon and – it just spoke to me. I remember you couldn’t do the course ahead of time so you really didn’t know how far you would actually go and what it was going to be like.
“For me, it was the fear factor of being thrown into these elements and not knowing whether you were tough enough. So that was my thing, ‘Am I tough enough?’ And then I finished it, and 22 years later I still have that original finisher’s t-shirt. Out of the thousands of t-shirts I’ve accumulated throughout 30 years of racing, I would say that shirt is my most revered finisher’s shirt.”
There are currently 43 races in 33 countries where amateurs can earn a qualifying spot to race at the 23rd edition of the XTERRA World Championships in Kapalua, Maui. And up until now, Oahu’s XTERRA Freedom Fest – slated for July 1, and the former Mountain Man Triathlon at Kualoa Ranch used to be the only qualifiers within the state.
About XTERRA Hawaii Island
XTERRA Hawaii Island is gearing up to be more than just a qualifying race – it will be a weekend focused on family fun.
On the Saturday prior to the inaugural event, a LavaKids Aquathon will be held on the northern end of Hapuna Beach where keiki can choose to swim, swim/run, or just run.
Ages 7-10 will take a 100-yard dip and then run 1K, with the older 11-14 age group swimming 200 yards and running 2K. A 100-yard beachside Keiki Dash will be available for children 6-and-under.
And in conjunction with the XTERRA Hawaii Island race on the following day – suitable for beginners to elite athletes alike – a two-person and three-person relay division will also be offered.
“We wanted to add the Aqua Kids race to make it a family weekend and we will also have relays,” she said. “The distances (for XTERRA Hawaii Island) are short so beginners can handle the half-mile swim, 10-mile bike and 3.1-mile run. While the terrain for the bike and run will be off-road trails, any tricky sections will be clearly marked with an option to take an easier path around the hard section. And as always, a biker can get off their bike and walk if they are not confident that their skills are up to par to handle any section.”
Currently 100 entries at a discounted rate are being accepted through the Bike Works Ohana pre-registration link. Higa-Miller said that once those are filled — and it is filling up fast — more entries are to be added at a slightly higher fee with a total race cap to be determined through their official registration site.
While the venue and distances have been revealed, the exact map of the bike and run course will be disclosed at a later date to discourage those who want to go out and familiarize themselves with a course that is currently not open to the public.
However, Higa-Miller promises that the bike and run course will be challenging and that competitors can anticipate the terrain to include a lot of loose rocks, sand, dirt, lava rocks and of course, Keawe thorns.
“We will have designated ride and run days as the course is not open to the public,” she said. “Alex Candelario (former pro cyclist and co-founder of Big Island Bike Tours) plans to have official training camps that people can sign up for so they can get a preview of the course. Alex can also help them to be prepared on how to deal with the Keawe thorns and know how to change their tires in a race situation.”
While Higa-Miller says there are long-term visions for this event, for this year, the focus is just to put on a quality event.
“We hope to set a really good foundation for this inaugural race and then build it up. Similar to how Lavaman started and how they just kept adding to it year after year. I did the inaugural Lavaman and we had only 89 people. We are like Gerry’s very first Lavaman, totally local, and we have seen how Lavaman has progressed. So we are taking the Lavaman model by starting small while doing a very high standard race, and then eventually adding to it like doing an Expo, maybe even a Sunset run. But for this first year, we just really want to do it well.”
For more information about the XTERRA Hawaii Island event and upcoming training camps, email firstname.lastname@example.org and Alex Candelario at email@example.com.
Saturday: 41st annual Hapuna Rough Water 1-Mile Swim & 200-Meter Keiki Swim will begin at 8:45 a.m. at Hapuna Beach State Park. For more info and late registration details email Ed Doherty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday: Frozen Pea Productions presents Papa Pea’s Sizzling Summer Sprint Biathlon featuring a 1/2-mile swim and 3.1-mile run at Kaiakeakua Beach. A short LavaKids Pea Wee course of 200-yard swim and 1-mile run is also available for everyone. Start time for this free event is 8:08 a.m., no registration needed, just sign-out at the finish. For more info contact Peaman at 938-2296.