John Zant: Tremendous trio of triathlons

Matt Organista

Matt Organista won the sprint race at last year’s Santa Barbara Triathlon, took hometown honors by winning the Carpinteria Tri, and overcame a serious elevation rise to claim the Pier to Peak title, as well. (Paul Wellman Photo)

Ride a bike to the beach, go for a swim, and run to the pier and back. For years, those have been components of the active summer lifestyle in Santa Barbara. In 1974, a track club in San Diego created an organized swim-bike-run race, the first so-called modern triathlon. Santa Barbara started one of its own in 1981. It is still going on — the 35th takes place next month — and it is billed as the oldest annual triathlon on the U.S. mainland (the Hawai‘i Ironman predates it).

Two other triathlons also take place on the South Coast: the fifth annual Goleta Beach Triathlon this weekend and the 18th annual Carpinteria Triathlon in September. Area athletes can “tri, tri, and tri again” without traveling out of town.

Here is a rundown of our triple scoops of exercise.

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.


John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent


GOLETA BEACH TRIATHLON: Sunday, July 26, 7 a.m. Long course: one-mile swim, 22-mile bike, five-mile run. Sprint course: .25-mile swim, 11-mile bike, 2½-mile run.

“We want it to be a first-timer’s race,” said Jerrett McFarland, founder of the event. To that end, rookie triathletes get half off their entry fees. “Get them hooked,” McFarland said. “It gives you a high that’s very addictive: ‘It’s something I can do!’”

McFarland, 52, got hooked at the Santa Barbara Triathlon in 2007 after he underwent a procedure to cure a heart defect. “I was a smoker and drinker,” he said. “I had lunch with my aunt, Anita Ho, and she got me all excited about doing a triathlon.” McFarland did other races around the state and eventually envisioned the Goleta Beach Park, with its protected cove and surrounding flat roads and bike paths, as an ideal venue for a triathlon that won’t kill you.

Kirstin Candy-McFarland, an avid triathlete, did the first Goleta Beach Tri and volunteered to help out at subsequent events. She and McFarland were married last Valentine’s Day. “We want to demystify the triathlon,” she said. “We don’t want ego. It’s a hometown thing. There are a lot of loops on the course, so you see your family and friends all the time.”

Candy-McFarland puts another talent to use at the start of the triathlon. She has toured nationally as a singer and songwriter, and her rendition of the national anthem precedes the dash into the ocean.

As many as 550 people have signed up for the races, McFarland said, and carpooling is encouraged to ensure enough parking spaces.

SANTA BARBARA TRIATHLON: Saturday, August 22, 7 a.m.: Long course: one-mile swim, 34-mile bike, 10-mile run. Sunday, August 23, 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.: Sprint course: 500-yard swim, six-mile bike, two-mile run.

Centered at the East Beach Bathhouse, a weekend of triathlon-related events gets underway Friday with a sports expo. It attracts hundreds of tourists. World-class triathletes like Ironman champions Scott Tinley and Paula Newby-Fraser have competed here.

The Saturday race is a serious challenge, with its hilly bike ride followed by a long run. “Oh, man, that long course is so tough,” said Carpinteria’s Matt Organista, winner of the sprint race last year. “I crashed my bike in 2010 and went into the run just wasted. Ever since, the long course has haunted me. I’m going to try it again this year.”

“There’s danger on every course,” said Candy-McFarland, who broke several bones in a bicycle accident in 2013. “You have to be aware.”

Joe Coito, the race director for 21 years, has added features to widen the triathlon’s appeal. There is a women-only sprint. “It’s an incredibly supportive and nurturing environment where female athletes of all skill levels come together for fun and fitness and form lifelong friendships,” Coito said. He also established a parent-child division, a “just-for-fun” category, an aquabike (for those unable to run), and a relay race that combines single-event athletes.

Every year since 2002, the S.B. Tri has raised money for nonprofits totaling almost $500,000, Coito said. It all adds up to an event that has earned its prestige among triathlons.

CARPINTERIA TRIATHLON: Sunday, September 27, 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. Olympic course: 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run. Sprint course: .5K swim, 15K bike, 5K run.

“There weren’t that many triathlons when we got started,” said Ann Meyer, a manager in Carpinteria Parks & Recreation. It has grown to about 850 athletes. “The majority are locals,” Meyer said. “There’s a feeling of community. It’s down-home and earthy.”

After the swim at “the world’s safest beach,” the bicycle course goes toward Toro Canyon and overlaps with the Santa Barbara course. “That part is hard,” said Goleta’s McFarland. “I love the run on the Carpinteria Bluffs.”

Organista, a water polo and swimming coach at Carpinteria High, won his hometown race last year in a course record of 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 33 seconds. “I really dug deep,” he said. “I love the triathlon. Everybody’s so nice. You create this bond with all the racers. We all go through the same obstacles.”

Several other fitness events from easy to extremely difficult are coming up:

VINTNERS 5 MILER: Saturday, July 25, Sanford Winery, 5010 Santa Rosa Road, Lompoc. This inaugural event is a trail run (walkers welcome, too) that loops into the hills above some historic vineyards. After the run, enjoy a festival of wines, a barbecue, and music. Register at 8 a.m.; run starts at 10 a.m.

THE BEACH ENDURANCE EVENTS: Sunday, August 16, Goleta Beach. It’s the 37th running of this standby, sponsored by McConnell’s Ice Cream. A scoop awaits the participants, who can choose from a menu of events: 10K run, 5K run (including a children’s division), one-mile swim, and aquathon (1K swim/5K run). The 10K starts at 9 a.m.

PIER TO PEAK HALF-MARATHON: Sunday, September 6, Stearns Wharf to La Cumbre Peak. The 13.1-mile distance is challenging enough. Add 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and it verges on ridiculous. “It’s the hardest race I’ve ever done,” said Organista, who claimed yet another victory last summer in his first attempt. “I looked back from the top and thought, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’” It starts at 6:30 a.m., and heat rises along with steepness on Gibraltar Road.