The Carpinteria Triathlon, a Great Way to End the Season, 20 Years On

When I moved to California nearly 40 years ago (damn, I must be getting old!), I lived in a sleepy little town called Carpinteria for nine months, living right on the beach. Coming from the east coast to the west coast this was like living the dream and even though I eventually moved to the Santa Barbara, the “big city”, Carp, as the locals call it, still holds a place in my heart. Not to mention that the beach there is perfect for swimming, kayaking, SUP’ing, body surfing at times during the year, and to just hang out on. And for the past 20 years it has also hosted the Carpinteria Triathlon on the last Sunday in September, including USAT “correct” distance sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, and this year an Aquabike division.

I was registered to race Carp last year but broke my toe the week before and could not race so I looked forward to adding to my list of previous finishes there in the past (9 Olympic, 2 sprint), even though my training has been more bike centric while training for the SB Triathlon aquabike race four weeks prior. The weather was more cooperative this year than in recent years where it has been extremely windy with a huge swell on race morning and very hard to find the next buoy, extremely foggy where it was very hard to see the buoys, and last year extremely hot, 90+ degrees, much to everyone’s relief.

Carp is also another race that is basically an independently run event, but not in the traditional sense like other race organizations. Carp is run by the City of Carpinteria and benefits the City’s Youth Scholarship Fund, awarding scholarships to qualifying local youth affording them the opportunity to participate in City aquatics programming such as Junior Lifeguards and Swim Club.  Over the years the race grew from a small number of athletes, mostly focused on the Olympic distance tri, into an event with over 900 athletes which has now seen the number of total competitors drop down to around 400 athletes, and the focus has switched over to the sprint distance triathlon.

The race director this year, and for many years, is Ann Meyer whom I have corresponded with over the years via the SB Tri Club but have never met in person. At this year’s race I had my good friend Kim Stackpole, a Carp local and long time organizer/volunteer coordinator at the race, introduce us so I could gather some facts for this story. Having interviewed Joe Coito from the SB Triathlon about his race and how it was doing in the changing face of the triathlon world, I wanted to ask Ann the same kind of questions.

If the Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon is the main course on many local triathletes diet than the Carpinteria Triathlon, either distance, is the dessert. With the bike course covering a lot of the same ground as the SB Tri, with two short but challenging climbs, and an out-and-back run course that heads out slightly uphill, it is far from easy and depending on the weather, can be downright hard by the time you turn around on the run up in the Carpinteria bluffs.

Personally I had a very good race to put a nice cap on my season. My good friend and longtime age group competitor Shigy Suzuki from the local Rincon Racing club was there racing his 20th Carp Tri, making it to the start line every year, whether he was injured or not, full respect! Shigy, who is a very fast runner, always faster than me on the run, is one year younger than me. As such I get one year at the Carp Tri when I age up where when he passes me someplace on the course (hopefully not before the run!), I know that I’m not losing a hopefully podium position to him. Seems like I have a lot of 2nd and 3rd place finishes at Carp, mostly thanks to Shigy!!!

But back to the point of this story, I posed the following questions to Ann about the Carpinteria Tri and here they are with her responses.

Fred: Ann, first off I’d like to thank you for taking the time to “chat” with me and to get some background information on you and your involvement with the City of Carpinteria and the Carp Tri. How long have you worked for the City? What is your official title there? How long have you been involved with the City and working on the Carpinteria Triathlon and what is your official role w/r to the triathlon?

Ann: I have worked for the City for over 20 years, starting as a part time employee in 1995 working with Code Enforcement. I currently hold the position of Management Assistant (Administrative) to the Parks & Recreation Department. I wear many hats at the City and my main job is that of assisting the Parks Director which includes hiring part time staff for summer, overseeing park rentals and permits, administrating grants, etc., etc. My official role pertaining to the triathlon is that of being the Event Director.

Fred: Twenty years is a good run for a triathlon so there must be a solid history behind this race and the Cities commitment to it, and now looking back I see that I did the first race back in 1998, so I guess I’m part of that history. Can you give us any historical background on the race; say why it was started and how it has evolved over the years?

Ann:  In 1998 I was hired full time to assist with both Parks & Recreation and Public Works. Bob Nisbet was the Public Works Director at that time and the brainchild of the Carpinteria Triathlon. He was a cyclist who at the time was planning a bike trip around the world. Twenty years ago triathlons were not so common; I recall having absolutely no idea about triathlons or what a transition was. We had an excellent core group of volunteers working diligently to fine tune everything including the course, registration, food, timing, etc. I learned everything from this group, whom I still consider my friends.

Fred: The quality of the race, the course, the volunteers, and the organization in general, has been very good for as long as I can remember. How do you feel the race went this year and after organizing the race these many years does it get any easier?

Ann: In some ways it has become easier. We have established our course and have an excellent group of core volunteers. I now have a full understanding of the sport and its components so I can focus on the logistics of putting things together. Overall, I think things went well this year from an organizational and logistical standpoint.

Fred: I don’t know how many people at the City are involved with organizing the race but does the City give you their full support and how much of what goes on behind the scenes do you have to farm out, like say the timing, etc.?

Ann: I do receive assistance from City staff, the Public Works Department with the logistics of staging items at the event venue and with closure of the southern portion of Linden Avenue. The crew also directs traffic through the road closure while the cyclists are out on the course. Pool staff helps with stuffing goodie bags, picking up donations, and a dedicated pool cashier works tirelessly to solicit and collect the donations. Most of the support I receive is from City staff and the dedicated volunteers and friends that have been involved from the beginning. As time goes on I am gaining some new volunteers to assist in areas such as transition, coarse marking and what I call schlepping (hauling heavy items).  I do farm out the expo set up, timing, packet assembly and website administration, but most behind the scene tasks are done myself on the fly. Additionally, it is my responsibility to obtain all of the required permits from outside agencies such as the City, County and State.

Fred: And of course no race can be successful without the legion of volunteers out there on the course. Are you able to recruit enough volunteers? It seemed like the race was fully staffed from my point of view, but then again I know the course so maybe I don’t need as much help.

Ann:  Each year it becomes more difficult to recruit volunteers to be out on the bike and run courses. I offer community service hours to high school students and recruit athletic groups to volunteer at our water stations along with the Carpinteria Afternoon Rotary Club. I find the water stations to be ideal locations for students and their team members. This past race we had the Carpinteria Jr. Warrior Football team and the Cross Country track team working at two water stations on the run course and the Carpinteria Afternoon Rotary Club has been working the bike water station for all 20 years. Finding volunteers to direct athletes is a more difficult task, but we still manage to cover key intersections and turns. I wish people knew how much fun they could have teaming up with a friend to serve as course marshals cheering on and directing the athletes!

Fred: We all remember years ago when all the local triathlons had much larger number of athletes competing. Have you and the City done anything to deal with the smaller number of competitors? I know in the past somebody from Carp used to come to one of SB Tri Club meetings to talk about the race and promote it and I seem to remember you having a table down at the SB Triathlon expo. Have you or the City considered revisiting some of the marketing that you used to do?

Ann:  You bring up a good point. Amidst the evolution of the World Wide Web and social media, face to face and personal contact in general has gone by the wayside. It might be worthwhile to revisit some of our old marketing strategies; appealing to local athletes and clubs.

Fred: Do you have a minimum number of athletes signing up for the race to be successful and continue or has that not been discussed yet?

Ann: Obviously, there is a break-even point for any event. It’s no secret that our registration was down from previous years. It is our intention to continue the event next year and to work towards increasing the number of participants.

Fred: Since, at least to me, having a City be the RD is a unique collaboration, whereas things like street closings, possibly law enforcement, and life guard support are City departments, are you more immune to the number of athletes and can continue longer than say an independent RD that is trying to make money from each event they promote versus running it as a benefit?

Ann: The Carp Tri is definitely unique and I think being a City sponsored event is what makes it so special. Being a municipality does not make us immune from the expenses associated with the support requirements. Whereas the City has access to support personnel, we still must pay our employees and law enforcement at overtime rates as would anyone else. Keep in mind that we too are trying to make money to benefit the City’s Youth Scholarship Fund which provides funds to qualifying families for their kids to participate in aquatics programs such as Junior Lifeguards and Swim Club. The difference is it is not to personally profit from the event.

Fred: Many independent races have either folded or been taken over by larger race organizations these past few years. For example, another race popular with our local athletes is Wildflower, run by Tri California with Terry Davis, who just sold the rights to their signature race to Motiv Sports. After 20 years running this race is the City prepared to keep running the race to their own benefit or has anyone ever approached the City about running the race for them or acquiring the rights to run the race?

Ann: Yes, I have been approached by others during the course of the years. In fact Joe Coito was once interested many years ago. Again, the Carp Tri is unique in that it is sponsored by the City and is not “owned” by any individual or entity.  There are no rights to run the race and I believe, the City Council would ultimately have to make the decision to abandon the event. That is not to say that the City wouldn’t consider a form of future partnership. Sadly, when larger organizations become involved with certain events, the event loses the essence that made it popular to begin with. The Carp Tri is based upon Carpinteria’s small town charm and the Carpinteria community itself. I would hate to see a larger organization lose sight of that by making it too commercial.

Fred: I know that many local athletes still love to come out and race the Carp Tri to end their seasons and would hate to see the race taken over by someone and possibly lose the low key vibe it has, or worse discontinued. I don’t want to put you on the spot and maybe the time for this discussion is still off in the distance, but can we look forward to doing the race again next year so people can keep it on their schedules, or better yet, add it back to the list of races they’ll do next year?

Ann: We do plan on holding the event Sunday, September 30th next year. I hope that the Carp Tri is already on everyone’s 2018 race calendar!

Fred: Ann finally, if there’s anything else that you’d like to add about the race and share with us, please feel free to include that here. Thanks so much for your time and responses and for putting on such a good race for not only the local Santa Barbara triathletes but of course our friends at Rincon Racing in Ventura and points further south.

Ann: Fred, it has been a pleasure “chatting” with you and I am looking forward to another great Carp Tri event in 2018. I am very pleased to know that many loyal supporters (competitors) have become concerned about the race’s fate and stepped forward to offer assistance. I hope your readers can help put to rest any rumors and instead promote the event to their friends and club members.

2 thoughts on “The Carpinteria Triathlon, a Great Way to End the Season, 20 Years On

  1. Nicely done, Fred. As a Carp local and frequent participant, I hope that folks who aren’t racing will come out and volunteer for one of the best Tri races in California. (I missed this year due to being on motorcycle trip to Utah and Colorado. Hope to be racing next year!)

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