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A Race to Tri: Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon

Party on the beach at this 23-year-old Hawaiian classic.


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Each magazine issue, we’ll be highlighting a race you might not know about. This month: the Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon.

Every year, triathletes descend on Hawaii’s Big Island for the big race of the year. Not that race—the other one, where athletes swim 1500 meters through Anaeho’omalu Bay, bike 40K through Kona’s iconic lava fields, and run through one of the most scenic courses in the world. The Lavaman Waikoloa triathlon offers a laid-back, low-key Hawaii race experience and, unlike other races on the Big Island, you don’t have to qualify to earn the right to be a part of the fun.

Here’s our quick snapshot of this race you should tri.

Photo: Wagner Araujo

Where: Waikoloa Beach Resort, Big Island, Hawaii

When: April 3, 2022

What: Since the late-90s, this iconic Olympic-distance race has been taking place on the grounds of the Hilton Waikoloa Resort just outside Kona. It started as a way for long-time race director, Gerry Rott, to honor her husband, who was killed when a car hit him during a bike ride. There were just 83 people at that first memorial event.

But ever since it was labeled the “best party in triathlon” the race has grown to be a mega-popular event that sells out its 1,800 spots in two weeks. Lavaman’s popularity really took off after athletes came from far and wide, then went home and raved about it to friends. There’s a particularly large Alaskan contingent now, said Rott, who are always happy to escape to the Big Island.

Held almost entirely on the hotel grounds, the 1.5K swim is in Anaeho’omalu Bay off the beach, the 40K bike heads out of the resort and down the infamous Queen K, and then the 10K rolling and tough run winds on and off trails before finishing on the sandy beach.

Why: Because the Hawaii Brewing Company-sponsored event goes through 24 kegs of beer and, in regular years, has nearly 3,000 people at the post-race beach party. With a laid-back atmosphere, and a transition and finish right next to each other by the water, it’s easy for both spectators and first-timers. It’s also gorgeous.

“It’s one of the most scenic courses,” said Rott.

Lavaman also has a local community vibe to it, with locals often contesting for the coveted overall title. Many of the aid stations are run by local groups, who then earn a donation to their organization. And Team-in-Training athletes have raised more than $17 million at the race.

How: The event was canceled in 2020 and this October’s event was canceled last month due to COVID-19 restrictions in Hawaii. But in 2022, Lavaman is hoping to be back to full fun numbers—so plan ahead for that other Hawaiian triathlon tradition.

Photo: Wagner Araujo