Aquaterra Flashback

Oct. 23, 2015

By Scott Schumaker

I’ll tell you one of the reasons I loved racing XTERRAs back when it all began, the late race starts and sleeping in until the luxurious time of 7am!

November 3, 1996, 9 AM


The cannon fires.  I charge down Wailea beach and into the tranquil Pacific with 122 athletes. It’s the first Aquaterra, now XTERRA. Well-known multi-sport names like Newby-Fraser, Pigg, Jones, Hobson, Tinley, Smyers and Riccitello are in the scantily-clad mob. There are a few notable    mountain bikers too. Overend. Kain. Kloser. It’s not the first off road triathlon*, but with its Maui location, end-of-the-season date, big name athletes, TV coverage and prize money, it has definitely garnered the most buzz. I dive into the water and think, “If this thing takes off it could change the face of triathlons!”

It’s one big triangle of a swim and I need to stay on Brent Imonen’s feet. He’s a damn fine ocean swimmer. With the likes of Overend and Kloser back there I need as much of a lead as possible. Shit, Riccitello is back there too. I know he can ride a mountain bike. Most triathletes can’t. Most triathletes seem to prefer glass-smooth pavement. Yawn. Boring. Not me. I’m excited to get on the dirt. I’m excited to get dirty! Swim faster, Brent.

Did Dave “Kahuna” Nicholas have his mini-cannon that first year? Was the Pacific tranquil? Did I really think Aquaterra could change triathlons as I dove into the water? Was the swim one big triangle? I have no idea. It was 20 years ago. Memory fogs. Let me check the tape. Stand by.

OK, I just checked the tape. Was there a mini-cannon? Nope. It was a conch shell being blown. Was the Pacific tranquil? Yes. Was the swim a triangle? No. It was a point-to-point swim from Ulua Beach to Wailea Beach. Was I thinking about Aquaterra possibly bringing a whole new dimension in multi-sport? I hope not. I hope I was focused on the race.

I’m right on Brent’s feet. Perfect. Look! There’s a giant turtle swimming underneath us**. That is sooo cool. Scott, stay focused on the race, man! Swim faster, Brent. Should I try to go around him? No, I need to conserve my energy. I   probably can’t get around him anyway. He’s fast.

The tape shows that I tried to go around him. I think I      wanted the swim prime. We exit the water side by side, but he’s on his feet a half stride before I am.

Sprint! I can get this.

A wave breaks. It’s tangles up my legs. Brent is already charging up the beach.

Looking back, I suppose could blame that wave for not     getting the prime. Or I could blame the extra drag of the bike shorts I chose to wear. But, really, Brent was just a damn fine ocean swimmer. I’m sure he still is. Hobson came out of the water close behind me. Pigg came out close behind him. Riccitello was a minute back. Tinley, 1:20. Overend nearly 3 minutes. I recall the run to the transition area feeling long.

OK, there’s my transition space. Finally. C’mon, bike jersey! Get on my wet body. I’m glad I cut the sleeves off! GU    packets…stay stuffed in those back pockets. OK, shoes are on. Grab the mountain bike. It’s a Scott hardtail. Aluminum frame. 26-inch wheels. V-brakes. Handlebar that round into bar ends. It’s a mere 30 pounds of XC awesomeness!

I’m sprinting out across the bike mount line and launch myself cyclocross-style onto my bike. I’m first out of         transition. I am the No Fear Bike Leader!

There’s a section of paved road before the dirt begins. I’m riding hands free putting on the bike gloves that had been dangling from my bar ends. There goes Hobson. Shit!…and Pigg! So much for being the bike leader. That didn’t last long. I’m a better technical rider than Hobson. Not sure about Pigg. But there is 3000 feet of climbing before the big descent.

That big descent would become known as The Plunge and I wouldn’t see Hobson or Pigg on it. In fact, I wouldn’t see either of them again until after the finish line. A half-dozen others would pass me on the climb to The Plunge, including Riccitello and, eventually, Overend. Those two were moving incredibly fast. If Phil Liggett had been commenting he would have said they were dancing on their pedals.

Whew. That was tough. Here we go the big descent! It’s double track and fast. It’s not all that technical, but the lava rocks are bouncing my bike around like a pinball and rattling my brain! Just don’t crash. Just don’t crash. Just don’t crash.

I didn’t crash but it wasn’t the best bike ride of my life either. It was, however, a hell of a lot more exciting and challenging—mentally and physically—than road triathlons.  Plus drafting, which was a heated debate in road triathlons at the time, was impossible. It was pure. It was bliss. By the time I hit the bike-to-run transition I was in love.

OK, I’m off the bike in one piece and in eighth place. Or is it ninth? I don’t know. There’s sweat in my eyes; I’m sweating like a whore in church***. I’m covered in a fine film of red dust. It’s f’ing hot! Why did they start this race so f’ing late in the morning? I might still be able to pull out a top ten finish though. C’mon, swimmer legs, work for me.

I’m weaving down through a forest of stunted growth. There’s very little shade. There’s a fallen tree marked with yellow hazard tape. Duck! And another one. Jump!

I’m on Big Beach. Plod. Plod. Ugh, this is a long beach. Plod. Plod. Plod. Damn you swimmer legs!

There’s a rocky ledge. More sand. Pavement. More trail. A “beach” made of baby-head sized rocks. Sweating. Sunbathers are looking at me like I’m nuts. My legs are really failing now. There’s the finish line. Hallelujah!

2:49:12. 12th place.

It wasn’t my best race speed-wise. I had really been hoping to finish in the top 10, and if all pistons were firing, top 5. Still, compared to my current 2015 speed, I was kind of, sort of fast. I didn’t appreciate it then. I appreciate it now. Perspective matters.

I’m in the post-finish line tent dropping another cupful of ice water over my head. This really could take off, I think. This whole mountain bike, Aquaterra triathlon thing. How     amazing would that be?! I would totally do these all the time over road triathlons. It was way more fun. And crazy challenging. And those Team Unlimited people seem really nice. They’ve treated us all like kings and queens. And they know how to put on a well-organized race. It’s too bad they are based in Hawaii though. There’s no way they’ll make      anything big happen stuck out here in the middle of the Pacific.

*The Kirkwood Enduro-X went down in August 6, 1994.
- Scott Tinley’s Dirty Adventures followed in the fall of 1995.
**I’m relatively sure a turtle actually did swim underneath us.
***Credit for the line “sweating like a whore in church” : Jimmy Riccitello.

Scott Schumaker (pictured above interviewing Michellie Jones after that first race) would go on to race almost every XTERRA Triathlon held over the next five years, writing about each one for multisport magazines and XTERRA, and he is a member of the XTERRA Hall of Fame. While he never won the big one, or even any of the smaller ones—Kahuna calls him the Dan Marino of XTERRA—he was a consistent top finisher and his articles helped grow the sport. Currently Scott is the managing partner at Bright Antenna Records and recently put out a children’s book called Henry’s Big Star Adventure. instagram: @scottschumaker