Pro triathlete AJ Baucco has earned legendary status on the island of Kona, Hawaii. Not only is he accomplished in the sport of triathlon, but he is also the reigning champion of the Kona Beer Mile, which took place for the first time ever at the 2014 IRONMAN® World Championships. If you’re one of the lucky few heading to Kona this year, triathlon’s “bad boy” shares some tips and tricks to make sure you do race week the right way:
What to Do?
Find a bike for transportation: All the action is on Ali’i Drive, but without a bike, you will be stuck in the same area all week. Sponsored events, and general cool stuff to do, happens all along the 5 mile stretch of Ali’i Drive. Don’t try to commute around town on a $12,000 TT bike. Walmart is within walking distance and has bikes for super cheap. Pick something up and then donate it at the end of the week. If you are staying in a condo, chances are there is a bike for you to use.
Body surf at White Sands Beach and cliff dive at The End of the World: Both of these places are quite a ways down Ali’i Drive, but definitely accessible by bike. The waves at White Sands Beach are perfect; not too big and not too small. Since the break is too close to the beach, there is no actual surfing here. Avoid catching waves in the middle of the cove unless you want to skin your knees on the rocks. Always best to just follow the example set by the locals. Bring old shoes for The End of The World so you aren’t climbing or jumping barefoot.
Go to sponsored events: The sponsored events are the absolute best part of race week in Kona. Most big triathlon companies will sponsor an event at some point during race week, and there will almost always be free food and free booze. Getting into these events isn’t always easy. Some are open to the public, but some will turn away Craig Alexander, if he doesn’t have an invite. You need to work on getting these invites by being social and meeting people during the week (usually at the expo or bars along Ali’i Drive). Here are a few race week parties:
- Rudy Project Party (invite only) – Located at the Hulihee Palace on Ali’i Drive across the cove from Dig Me Beach, this party is always one of my favorites. The vibe at the Hulihee Palace is incredibly chill. The party takes place on the grass outside of the Palace, which is now a museum. Always free beer, light apps, some entertainment, and the who’s who of professional triathlon. In order to finagle an invite, I would spend some time at the Rudy Project booth, buy some of their gear, and hope that leads to an invite.
- The Slowtwitch Party (open to the public) – Usually this party is located quite a ways down Ali’i Drive, so it is best to have a bike to get you there. You need to RSVP via the Slowtwitch forum. The party itself is held early in the evening and is usually very tame, but they always have great giveaways and free booze. The vibe is a little awkward, but that is to be expected from people that spend most of their time on the internet.
- The Thank God I Am Not Racing Party held by Bob Babbitt and sponsored by Rudy Project and others (open to the public) – Located at Huggos on the Rocks, this party usually gets a little crazy. I believe that this was the party where some ladies bought the shirt off my back for $100, and I spent a good chunk of the night drinking shirtless (with their money).
- The Clif Bar Party – Honestly, I have no clue if this party is invite only because I’ve only ever stumbled in at 2am. I have never had an invite, but the party was also going full blast every time I showed up. This party is held on the Sunday after the race and is located at the bar upstairs from Hawaiian Pedals. No need to worry about directions, you will hear the music playing from miles away. In order to even make it to this party, you need to drink until every other party is over. Hands down, this is the best party on the Island. Plenty of good looking people, an amazing live band, a couple hundred drunk triathletes, and free booze. Even though this party goes almost all night, don’t show up too late or the beer will be long gone.
Skip the Underwear Run: I know that the underwear run raises money for charity, and there is some nice scenery, but don’t expect the same legendary Underwear Run that used to exist. Now, the Underwear Run takes place in the parking lot behind the King Kamehameha Kona Hotel, not the back alley behind Big Island Jewelers. These days, the vibe feels more like an Ironman event.
Get tattooed: Don’t just get tattooed anywhere on the Big Island. Go see Pym at Tattoo Technique on Likana Lane near Ali’i Drive. Pym can do your stupid M-dot tattoo, but let her get a little creative with it. Pym has been tattooing for almost 30 years, and she has tattooed rock stars like Lemmy from Motorhead. Tell her that AJ sent you for extra special treatment. www.pymtattoo.com
Do the TRS Triathlon Beer Mile: This event may be tougher to get into than Kona! This event is completely underground and is invite only. Even spectating involves knowing someone that knows someone. Last year, the location wasn’t announced until 30 minutes before the start. Want to race the Beer Mile or watch this epic event? Your best bet is to spend some time at the local watering holes. You’ll need to find The Real Starky, buy him a few rounds and hope he’ll extend an invite. Be sure to wear your shades since beer tends to fly and no Rudy Wing57’s allowed! Good Luck… www.trstriathlon.com.
Where to Eat and Drink?
Breakfast at Big Island Grill: I almost feel bad for telling everyone about this place. It is one of the best kept secrets on the Island. Just a short walk up Sarona Rd from Ali’I Drive. The building looks like an old McDonald’s and the scenery is crap, but the food is amazing authentic Hawaiian cuisine. Except for a handful of locals, this place is very quiet. Go for the Traditional Breakfast with Spam. You will not be disappointed.
Lunch at Umeke’s or Da Poke Shack: Eating poke every day is about the best advice I can give you. The poke on the Big Island is insanely good. If you are staying near town, walk up Hualalai Rd and grab lunch from Umeke’s. If you are staying a few miles away from town, grab lunch at Da Poke Shack on Ali’I Drive near mile marker 3 of the run course. If you are shopping at Safeway, you can get pretty good poke from the fresh seafood section.
Dinner at the Kona Inn: This is one of the better views you will get at a restaurant in Kona. Located across the street from Uncle Billy’s Hotel, the Kona Inn has a spectacular view of the Kailua Bay. The vibe here is really chill, and the prices are very reasonable as long as you eat at the café grill. If you eat at the restaurant, it will be much more expensive. Order the Calamari Sandwich and wash it down with a Big Wave Golden Ale.
Drink at Huggo’s on the Rocks: It’s a little bit expensive, but putting your feet in the sand while you drink is worth the overpriced Mai Tais. This is a good spot to start the night off. Once the beers are flowing, it is best to move elsewhere.
Drink more at Humpy’s Big Island Alehouse or Bongo Ben’s Sports Bar: Drinks are much cheaper than Huggo’s on the Rocks and these bars tend to be a good spot all week. Show up around midnight and you will likely end up getting drunk with the people that run some of the biggest companies in triathlon. Want to get the pro discount on your next bike? Want to get an invite to a sponsor party or the Beer Mile? These are the places to arrange such things.
Avoid Lava Java: If you are currently wearing compression socks with sandals and shorts, you can go to Lava Java. Everyone else would be better off grabbing a cup of coffee at any of the other coffee shops on Ali’i Drive. Lava Java has very tasty food and great coffee, but it is way too crowded and overpriced. If you are on the island well before or after race week, this is actually a great spot.
What to Wear (and not to wear)
Bring plenty of board shorts and t-shirts. Best to leave the polos shirts and designer jeans at home. Try to blend in when visiting the Big Island. Some establishments will treat tourists differently than locals, especially during race week.
Please, no compression in public. If you wear compression to dinner on Ali’i Drive, you might as well wear a sign that says “Look at me! I’m racing this weekend and am better than you at triathlon!” You think it is helping your recovery, but really, you are just embarrassing the triathletes who actually adhere to social norms.
Don’t train in your race kit!!! It is amazing how many athletes will run up and down Ali’i Drive wearing their exact race kit. I know you want to plug your “sponsors”, but this is unacceptable behavior. Pack a couple cycling kits and some running shorts. If you really want people to notice you, oil up and go shirtless on that run.
Wear sunscreen. Kona is crazy hot and humid and that sun will fry you in an hour. Besides not wanting skin cancer, sunburn is going to make you uncomfortable all week. You can even throw on a pair of Rudy shades to keep the sun out of your eyes and earn some major style points.
About AJ Baucco
AJ Baucco is an established long course professional triathlete from Cleveland, Ohio. He founded AJ Baucco Coaching LLC, which currently coaches nearly 50 age group triathletes from all over the country. He also runs an age group triathlon team called “The Baucco Squad”. In 2015, AJ Baucco was crowned the first ever Kona Beer Mile Champion. He has since been given legendary status on the Big Island.
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter – @irunshirtless
Instagram – @ajbaucco