The Kona Experience

It’s a l-o-o-o-n-g flight to Hawaii if you’re flying a Delta 757 with 6″ of

Deplaning at Kona airport

knee space between seat rows.  4-1/2 hours ATL-LAX plus 5-1/2 hours LAX-KOA adds up to 10 hours and a lot less fun than a 10 hour trip to Europe.  Traveling east to Europe, Delta serves meals, offers customized movie choices and provides reasonable leg room.  Traveling west to Hawaii, Delta dispenses with all the niceties and just gets you there.  The destination is the reward.


Kyle & Betsy at Kona airport

Betsy, Kyle and I landed in late afternoon at an airport that is an open-air assemblage of tiki huts, an immediate immersion into island culture and charm.  To start, you deplane directly onto the tarmac before walking over to the nearest tiki hut.  Betty of Dynamo was waiting to greet us at the baggage claim, along with the three Dynamo Triathoners (Barbara, Micki, Michael) on our flight.  We snagged our bargain rental car (another story!), made a grocery stop at Costco where Katie joined us before returning to the airport to pick up Ollie. Then we headed for our rental house on the hillside above Kona.

It was 9 PM Hawaii time (3 AM EDT) before we got settled; Katie returned to her Dynamo team house and by 9:15 we were in bed!




Friday–the day before Race Day–and our first order of business was to check in with the Dyamo crew.  We drove down to their their pad on the ocean along Alii Drive, which is the main street of Kona and a major player in the Kona run segment.









Kona racers–EJ, Matt, Kathryn, Drew and Haley

The Dynamo Team at Kona

Ollie’s Take


As the 23-year-old son of Jack and Betsy and Kathryn’s youngest brother, I will be providing the blog with the entitled arrogance of a youngest child and the chagrin of an English major who is dealing with the harsh repercussions of choosing that breezy and impractical concentration.  I also have the unique privilege of being the benefactor of many tropical vacations courtesy of Jack and Betsy, so I will be able to compare this Hawaii experience to such classic excursions as, say, Belize ’01, Roàtan ’05, Cabareté Senior Year or the annual/biannual weeklong Florida beach house stay.


In preparation for this trip I did the bare minimum.  The exact opposite end of the spectrum of Kathryn, the Iron Maiden.   I used a credit card (not my own) to buy a flight, requested time off work, packed a bag, and found a ride to the airport.  I failed to research or plan or wish my sister luck before she took off.  I didn’t even spend the energy it takes to conjure a day dream about the trip in excited anticipation.  I just kinda stepped off the plane with a sore butt, breathed deep the salty jungle humidity which carries hints of fish and fresh fruit, and heroically sought out my parents’ rental car.


But now that I am here I have come up with some definitive goals:

  1. Cheer my sister on to glorious completion of the Iron Man.
  2. Drink the best coffee of my life.
  3. Eat well.
  4. Swim, relax in the sun and enjoy the tropics in traditional beach vay-cay fashion (puzzles, etc.)
  5. See a level 2 interesting underwater creature: shark, ray, turtle, eel — after twenty minutes of snorkeling, schools of colorful tropical fish no longer impress me
  6. Finish The Rum Diaries and do something Hunter Thompson-esque.  Anywhere from eating grapefruit for breakfast to . . .
  7. Get a grip on what this whole triathlon/super triathlon scene is about and use the athletic nerd zoo that is happening on this island as inspiration for my own foundering athletic endeavors.
  8. Hijack for the week


Many of the goals have been set in motion.  None are accomplished.  Stay tuned as I break down the week, expose what I really think about my family and sneak shots of rum with Kathryn’s (new to me) special friend, Kyle O’Day.

Kona–The Swim

Filing through the crowd at 5:30 AM to get to our saved seats on the sea wall. ZOMBIE ALERT! They are frequently seen among the triathlon crowds.

Triathlons aren’t for late-sleepers.  Kona starts the pros at 6:30 AM, the age-groupers at 7 AM, which means racers have until midnight (17 hours) before the lights go out and they get a DNF behind their name.

The finish line @ 5:30 AM, 100 yds. from the swim start.

The Dynamo racers all rose by 3:30 AM to eat, check gear one more time and get to the race start by 4:45 AM.  We spectators got to sleep in until 4:45 AM–unless you were Betty, Ernie, Kyle and Shanks, who got to the swim start by 4:30 AM to save preferred seating along the sea wall for the rest of us.  They defended the wall rampart brilliantly (and often) so that when we arrived at 5:30 AM, we could climb atop the wall and dangle our feet out above the water 8 feet below while looking over the bay.

View from the sea wall to the pier and swim start. The transition area and bike corral is on the pier, behind the lights.

The pros start into the water at 6 AM to warm up for their 6:30 AM swim start.








6:30 AM, waiting on the sea wall for the start. Dynamo supporters in their green T-shirts were easy to find.








A flotilla of boats and paddle boards monitor swimmers. The swim starts at a float line, enforced by a rotating line of paddle-boarders, about 150 yards from shore.


Age groupers enter the bay for warm-up, beginning at 6:35 AM.

A certain group of celebrity spectators, seated on the sea wall.


Swimmers warming up. The buoy start line is in the distance near the top of the photo.


The sun coming over the horizon as the flotilla hovers…

Kona–The Bike Leg

The bike leg is the hardest to watch as a spectator because there are so few vantage points.  There’s a quick spectator-friendly out’n’back on Kuakini Highway before the route turns up to Queen Kaahumanu (“Queen K”) Highway and the cyclists disappear for 4 or 5 hours. The next time one can see them is on the fast descent back to T-2, which we passed up to have a good vantage point for the run.

A minute or so after this picture was taken, a spectator tried to cross the road and was impaled by a bike. She was seriously injured, and lay in the middle of the street for 20 or 30 minutes, attended by emergency personnel, while bikes whizzed by in each direction.

While we were watching the out’n’back along Kuakini, several spectators dashed across the road between cyclists.  One woman got a late start and 3 cyclists, riding abreast, came around a downhill turn at 30 mph.  The inside cyclist had no where to go and T-boned the woman, and, amid a POW!, they ended up in a heap on the ground.  The cyclist jumped up, gingerly checked out himself and his bike (the pow! was a blown tire), and slowly made his way to the side of the road.  Someone ran to him with a tire pump, and others in the crowd shouted, “No, no!  No help allowed!”

Meanwhile, the woman stayed down in the road and emergency personnel rushed to her side, while a police officer stepped into the road to slow down and re-direct oncoming cyclists.  She never moved, and after 20 or 30 minutes, they were able to put her on a body board, then on a stretcher, and roll her down the block to a waiting ambulance. Bikes continued to fly by.

The cyclist fixed his tire and, after 12 or 15 minutes of lost time (and some cursing), remounted his bike to the cheers of the crowd.