Tinley Talks

Oct. 19, 2016

Twenty years ago triathlon legend Scott Tinley was among a select group of pioneers to race in the inaugural AquaTerra off-road triathlon in Maui. Ten years ago he was inducted into the XTERRA Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport. This year, he is back in Maui to race, teach an XTERRA University clinic on the “Socio-cultural History of Triathlon,” and give us his view on how off-road triathlon got started in the first place…

QnA with Scott Tinley, October 2016

XTERRA: Everyone knows you had a major role in the very first off-road triathlons. Tell us how you got the idea and what you did?

ST: In the mid 90’s my race performances were slipping a bit but I was having a blast racing mountain bikes and trail runs on my off weekends. For some reason—perhaps because I grew up riding off road motorcycles and had always loved to run trails--I found some skills that allowed me to do well in these singular events. Quite selfishly, I thought, “why not an off road triathlon?” I spoke with a handful of race directors at the time and we agreed that it might catch on since it addressed a few of the challenges in the sport at the time. RDs were concerned about drafting enforcement, the rising cost of closing municipal roads, and generally dealing with vehicular traffic as well as the post-honeymoon blahs within the sport of triathlon. So, I called for a meeting among race directors in Kona during the week before Ironman, 1994. Most of the top RDs in the sport attended including representatives from Ironman, USTS, the Chicago Triathlon, the San Diego and Los Angeles events, as well as ancillary races such as Bermuda, St. Croix, and most importantly, Tri-California.

The general consensus was that off road was a good idea but at the time not one of the bunch were willing to take the leap. Several months later, the same group met again in the offices of Velo News in Boulder, Colorado and we set out a plan to look for a major series-wide sponsor. That never happened. Only Terry Davis from TriCalifornia was interested and cornered me. “Well, ST, if you can come up to the Central Coast and lay out a course, get a bunch of people there, and generally ‘host’ the event then I’ll do the rest.” That’s how it started. In October of 1995 we held the first legitimate off road triathlon.

Then, sometime in August of 1996, a kid called me from this group based in Honolulu. They had been producing lifeguard-style ocean events and were dabbling in mountain bike events. He was interested in putting on an event the week before Ironman® on Maui and wanted my opinion on whether it should be a 10k road race or an ocean swim or even—if they could make it work since they had access to a private ranch with great trails near a hotel in which they had uh…connections—a mountain bike race? Or maybe a separate combination of all three.

“Holy shit!” I offered. “Why not an off-road triathlon? You guys have all the elements in place. But do it the week after the event.”

“Why not before?”

“Because we all want to come and party with you folks. And that ain’t happening the week before Ironman®.”

A few days later his boss Tom Kiely rung me up and suggested he’d had the same ideas. Let’s do it. And so we did.

XTERRA: Is your off-road tri still going? How long has/had it been going on for?
ST: Terry, his crew, and I put that series of events on every year for 21 straight until the water in the reservoir at Lake Lopez ran so low in 2016 there was nothing but mud. After a few good rains, we’ll be back in biz. Stay tuned.

XT: What are your thoughts on the evolution of off-road triathlon and its future?
ST: Certainly, TEAM Unlimited is largely responsible for everything that the sport is today. It seems to be growing but slowly and against small barriers that need removal. I so hope that the entire ethos of off road multisport will gain the stature that it deserves. Gawd that sounds so PC. In any case, part of the problem lies in the fact that many people in the multisport world are either freaked out by dirt or think the only way to heaven is through an Ironman® distance event. XTERRA is not a brand but a way of thinking about moving across a natural terrain.

XT: What's your best memory from the first race in Maui, 1996?
ST: Naked football before the awards ceremony. I don’t remember anything after that.

XT: Are you still teaching?
ST: Yes, at a famous university in San Diego but I don’t want to say for fear that Dave Nicholas might stumble into my classroom one day asking for the $50 I owe him from some long forgotten bar tap.

XT: What made you want to jump back into the mix this year and what's the goal for race day?
ST: I’m not really sure. It seemed like a good idea a few months ago. You know, go back to Maui, revisit your past, find your inner-child again. Play naked football at sixty years old. All of which is bullshit. I suppose I’m in decent shape and won’t have to walk too much on the run. And I do owe Dave that fifty bucks.