The Kona Experience – Notes From Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel


As we look at the beginning of another triathlon season, Rudy Project North America Public Relations Director Simone Cordery-Cotter reflects on what makes the sport so special, as told through the lens of Kona.

I’ll admit, when I began working for Rudy Project, I didn’t fully understand the appeal of Kona. People I talked to, athletes and representatives of brands alike, talked about the event like it was the holy grail of triathlon. I didn’t go the first year I worked at Rudy Project, so like many fans, I lived vicariously through friends and athletes on social media and watched the NBC broadcast as our very own Heather Jackson, the first American female to podium in over a decade, took third. The thrill of Kona didn’t truly hit me until I went in 2017 and saw it for myself, situated at the heart of the action in the Rudy Project Village at Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel on Ali’I Drive.


The first morning was a whole new world, and it was a simple thing to sit on my 4th floor balcony and watch everyone go by – triathletes cruised up and down Ali’I Drive on their bikes, more were running down the sidewalks, people are everywhere even at 7 in the morning (prime training time is bright and early, before the heat sets in). In the protective semi-circle of the Kona Bay Hotel, the Rudy Project Village is a microcosm of triathlon – we select apparel, wetsuit, skincare, and bike brands to display their latest and greatest next to us in our own event venue. Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel is a fixture – the hotel has stood along Ali’I Drive for over 50 years and is a family affair (Uncle Billy himself has since passed on, but his family carries the tradition forward). It’s a community fixture; the annual Undie Run makes the final loop through Uncle Billy’s driveway, and the final few miles of the marathon come directly in front of the hotel. The week leading up to race day, the front patio of the hotel turns into a hive of activity – professional athletes come by to talk to sponsors, former world champions stop for a coffee, and everyone turns out to see the latest and greatest from Rudy Project, the number one helmet in Kona. For me personally it was incredible – athletes I had been writing about for a year were flesh and blood, and the beauty of triathlon is that they’re down to earth people. Super focused, and driven, but still people.

kona crew helping out

On race day, there was no better spot to be than on Ali’I. On the sea wall looking over the bay, there was a moment of stillness as the crowd held its collective breath, then the cannon sounded, and the historic Kona bay turned into a washing machine as the world’s greatest launched the first wave.  After the lead swimmers made the turn, it was a quick jog over to the chute where athletes came zooming out of T1, still shedding water and trying to get clipped in. It was especially thrilling to watch Kona rookie Josh Amberger come zooming out first and lead the bike for upwards of 40 miles, wearing his gold Boost Pro helmet. After the stream of athletes coming out of the water subsided, I found my way around the corner to Umekes, the BEST poke on the island, to grab lunch. Then it was a matter of waiting for the world’s best to come running down the legendary road. Spectators lined the pavement, stretching out their hands for a high five from Tim Reed, or Andy Potts. The wall outside Uncle Billy’s made for a perfect vantage point for photos, catching athletes with expressions ranging from ecstatic, to strained, to determined, all in the final miles. You could hear the roar from the finish line for miles, and it was challenging to make my way through the press of people to see Sarah Crowley cross the line, but well worth it.

runner down ali'i

One of the most magical experiences I had was the finish line at midnight – people who have literally been moving for 16 hours make their way up the carpet, their final steps urged onward by the fans around them. It’s special, uplifting, and overwhelming.

The simple joy and spirit of competition in Kona makes it a special place. But there’s a lot of downtime, where you’re waiting for the next event, and where you stay is a key part of the Kona experience. Uncle Billy’s Kona Hotel was an oasis – the right balance of being in the middle of the action and a peaceful retreat. For anyone looking to experience the heart of Kona, this historic hotel provides a real taste of the island. The staff is friendly and hard working, and they strive to accommodate triathletes and other guests alike. Guests that make reservations for the big week can have their bikes shipped to the hotel, and the hotel has a massive parking lot to accommodate everyone. Beyond race week, those in the know recommend exploring popular food spots like Pine Tree Café and Punaluu Bakery, or getting out onto a deep sea fishing rig, like Bomboy’s Toy. In reflection, Ironman is not what makes the island special – it may be what draws thousands of us there every year, but what makes the experience phenomenal is the people.


Make your Kona reservation today for Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel:

The 2018 IRONMAN® World Championship is Saturday, October 13th.


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