Enrique Wong, The Original Tico of XTERRA
As the saying goes, there is a first for everything, and the first-ever XTERRA racer (and organizer) from Costa Rica was Enrique Wong.
“The first time I saw XTERRA was in a magazine. It was an ad for XTERRA Half Moon Bay in Northern California, and when I saw it I told myself it would be my next event,” explained XTERRA Costa Rica organizer Enrique Wong from Unlimited Productions.
At the time Wong was working for the airlines and consumed with travel, training, and work and XTERRA was just laying the foundation for the sport across the U.S.
“The combination of mountain biking and triathlon was amazing to me,” said Wong. “At the time I was training on a road bike but I was born and raised close to the nature, the beach, the mountains, and that’s how I lived. I’m an adventure guy and I saw that XTERRA was pure adventure mixed with the adrenaline of racing and excitement of travel. It was a perfect combination of all the things that I loved.”
Wong chased XTERRA around the world - to Richmond, Virginia and to Mexico and Temecula and to Maui for Worlds, and he fell in love with it all.
“XTERRA for me is a way of living, Pura Vida!” he exclaimed.
We caught up with Wong this week as he prepares to host the XTERRA Pan America Tour season-opener this Sunday at Playa Reserva Conchal in the Province of Guanacaste.
XTERRA: Why did you decide to produce XTERRA in Costa Rica?
Enrique Wong: When I started XTERRA I really got attached to it so I’ve kept racing all these years. At one point, maybe 10 years ago, I thought why not have an international event in Costa Rica. We have everything here, the nature, the people, everything for a great XTERRA event and I knew I could do it. Back then I was the only one going back and forth to XTERRA, but I thought if I could expose the sport to our people they would love it too. So that became my goal, to bring this event to the Costa Rican people.
XT: Have you seen the sport growing in Costa Rica?
EW: It’s been amazing. One of the first guys I came up with was Rom Akerson, and now his kids are on to XTERRA as well. I saw little kids that were 15 when I brought XTERRA here for the first time and now they are competing to go to Hawaii. It’s really nice. I’ve been telling them the experience of racing Worlds. Being so young and traveling to Hawaii is a dream for them, as it was a dream for me at the time. The main thing is, as I’ve seen in Maui, is to be part of the family of XTERRA, the XTERRA Tribe, and that is how they feel now.
XT: It seems you are not only showing XTERRA to Costa Rica, but you are also showing the beauty of Costa Rica to the world?
EW: Yes, we have 20 countries represented this year. It is important for us because the government is looking to us to see how these types of events are powerful ways to showcase our country.
XT: You’ve also put a lot of effort into televising the event, tell us about that.
EW: Last year we had people from all over the world, New Zealand, Australia, South America, Europe, South Africa and the U.S. tuning in to watch online (7:30am MST, find link to live broadcast at www.costaricaxterra.com). It’s also broadcast on the biggest cable channel in Costa Rica at the same time.
XT: Tell us when your love for traveling started.
EW: When I was 11 I was an exchange student to Wisconsin, and I’ve loved experiencing other cultures and places ever since. Mixing the sport which I love with traveling is the perfect way to live I’ll say.
XT: What kind of experience are you hoping to deliver with XTERRA?
EW: The experience we want to give all the racers is about the community, to have that interaction with Costa Rican people if they’re from other countries; and for the local people to feel at home and be well treated at the event.
XT: What do you think about the new XTERRA Pan American Tour?
EW: I just love how XTERRA has been growing, and it’s been growing really nice in a business way. I believe the Pan Am Tour is going to work. I know it’s going to work. We will work to have a really good interaction between all the countries involved. I know the people from Latin America will be very interested in racing the Pan American Tour.
XT: Why do you choose this date in March for XTERRA Costa Rica?
EW: The idea is to take visiting athletes from the winter season and provide them with a small break and start their training and racing season in some warm weather. Instead of going to Florida, come to Costa Rica and spend a week here. It’s close to Easter week so they can have a vacation mixed with a race in warm weather and the whole family. That is what we are trying to communicate.
XT: Tell us a little bit about the course in Conchal.
EW: Sure The swim is two loops, 750-meter each, with a beach run in between. The water is perfect. The bike starts with some pretty loose sand and they’ll ride on the beach where there are no shadows, and you see the blue water in front of you, sand is shining in your eyes. Here you think, this is XTERRA. It’s a 30K bike and then a 10K run. It’s a really nice course in between the swimming, riding, and running. Some trails on the bike are like riding on the volcano rocks, loose, light rocks. It’s a whole mix of what Maui has as well, a good combination of what to expect from XTERRA.
XT: Is there a signature spot on the course?
EW: Yes, Rompe Piernas (translated to Breaking Legs Hill). It’s a big climb and then really technical downhill about 10K into the bike.
XT: What can racers expect to see this weekend?
EW: You’re going to see friendly people, Pura Vida people. It’ll be hot. We tell everybody just to hydrate all the time. Good thing is while the run isn’t easy, there are a lot of shadows because it’s in the jungle, so that is nice.
XT: Is it hard for you to be director and not racer, do you wish you were out there?
EW: Yes, of course, I wish I could race but it’s also really satisfying to put on the race. My goal was to bring an XTERRA here to Costa Rica for everybody. There are a lot of people who cannot travel to races. Hosting it here gives this same experience, same quality of event as other places, but in their hometown. For me it’s satisfying to accomplish that down here.
XT: Tell us a little bit about your company.
EW: It’s called Unlimited Productions. My idea is to have this really open concept of company which produces sport, TV, and merchandise. Not just triathlon, but other races as well. The idea is to be wide open. We’ve set it up so we have departments for logistics, departments for TV. We have a really good, very experienced crew who are passionate for sport and for their country. It’s also very important for us to treat the age groupers same as the pros. To show their value and importance to us. The pros give us the image, but the age group athletes give us the foundation so it is our mission to treat them well.