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The Year Someone Commandeered the Coffee Boat

Who is the mysterious "bigger and heavily funded organization" who wrestled longtime control of the Kona coffee boat? We found out.

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Triathletes swimming out to the yellow catamaran in Kailua Bay last week were enjoying their free morning coffee as usual – but the company that initially launched the longtime race-week ritual at the Ironman World Championship wasn’t having such a swell time.

Wetsuit brand Blueseventy who started the tradition more than a decade ago posted an Instagram message two weeks ago saying: “With sincere disappointment, we must announce our inability to host a coffee boat this year for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.

“Against our very best efforts and in spite of maintaining our annual reservation, a bigger and heavily funded organization was able to slide in and secure OUR boat, ending an iconic staple for over 10 years.

“We were robbed and we feel incredibly bummed to have been bullied out of our position. We cherish the time we spent with you in Kailua Bay and are proud to have made the#konacoffeeboat an integral part of this event.

“Thank you for taking time over the years to swim out and say hello, we hope to see you again in 2023.”

The “bigger and heavily funded organization” Blueseventy refers to was confirmed by Ironman’s chief executive Andrew Messick to be Ironman itself.

Kona Coffee Boat
(Photo: FinisherPix)

Messick stated that while he admired Blueseventy’s “bandit” initiative, because Blueseventy is not an official sponsor of the race, Ironman has stepped in to run the boat.

He also said that it would remain a fixture at the event and that he’s enjoyed swimming out from Dig Me beach for coffee along with hundreds of other athletes each morning.

“We’ve used the same boat company from day one and we’re bummed not to be there,” said John Duquette, Blueseventy’s Head of U.S. Sales and Operations. (Prior to Blueseventy, local firm Coffees of Hawaii would run the coffee boat during race week.)

“It was challenging with the pandemic but every time the date of the event changed I’d call the boat company to confirm our booking and follow up on email.

“In June, when it came to the final planning, I called for the invoice and the office kept telling me I had to talk to the owner.

“This went on for a couple of months, but they said they had our reservation and everything was  fine.

“In mid-August I got a call saying they rented the boat to Ironman and that was that.”

Duquette said trying to have independent expos closed down as Ironman looks to protect its official partner contracts has been happening for years, but isn’t always in the best interests of athletes.

“It’s not necessarily about the brand, but giving athletes the best experience. Before we put out our social post, I spent an hour going through photos of our past events with so many people hanging out at the boat. We were proud to put so many smiles on people’s faces.”

Kona Coffee Boat
(Photo: FinisherPix)

Blueseventy’s stance was supported by fellow swim brand Huub.

In a statement on its own Facebook page, Huub said: “We have noticed a Facebook post from one of our competitors and their disappointment at ‘promotion gazumping’ in Kona.

“Several people have asked if we have outbid Blueseventy on the Kona Coffee Boat… It is not us, and those that know us will understand that this isn’t our style. Whilst we should be great enemies, we do have sympathy for them.

“For what must now be 15 years, Blueseventy have operated a coffee stop catamaran for training swims.

“Our CEO, Dean Jackson, has even worked on it during his Blueseventy tenure. It is a welcome spot for athletes of all brands and countries at the IRONMAN World Championships.

The Huub statement went on to make a wider point about how the wider cost of coming to Kona has become prohibitive with skyrocketing accommodation and parking prices seen throughout the island.

“We support the feelings of our competitor and their annoyance at their treatment and feel very strongly the financial bullying they have witnessed does not have a place in our sport.”

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