Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, is an exciting place to be during the Ford Ironman World Championship event every October. But you don't have to be a triathlete to enjoy the festivities. In fact, visitors not racing probably have a better time than the athletes getting ready for race day. Here are 10 things to put on your must-do list while you're in town.
See and Be Seen
The ever popular Island Lava Java continues to be the see-and-be-seen hot spot. Amateurs, pros and industry people alike can't seem to get enough. Always buzzing and therefore busy, it may take a while to place and get your order but it's worth the wait. Kona coffee, cinnamon rolls as big as your head, and dishes named after the pros—such as "The Stadler"—are must-try treats. And yes, athletes do indulge.
Another favorite spot has come to be Huggo's, just across the way from Lava Java and right on the ocean. It's lively-but-chill atmosphere is often less crowded, which makes it a great place for those who want to get in, get out, and get on with the day while taking a moment to soak in the fantastic Kona coastline with their food.
Take a Morning Dip
The Ironman swim course starts at Kaiokekua Beach, and it's the place to be between 7 and 9 a.m. every weekday morning leading up to the race. An abundance of hot bodies, sunshine and smiles set the scene. Athletes can leave their gear at the bag check, rub elbows with the pros, and follow the swim buoys as far as their heart (or their coach) desires. Thanks to the locals, there are several water-safety volunteers in kayaks along the course.
Be sure to stop at the coffee boat. Since 2008, Coffees of Hawaii has commandeered the Floating Espresso Bar anchored just a few hundred meters off-shore. From 7-9 a.m., Tuesday thru Friday you can swim up to the boat and enjoy complimentary cups of their coffee. To say it's been a hit is an understatement. According to their blog, they've poured over 15 gallons of coffee on a single morning. As if that wasn't enough, samples of Baker's Breakfast Cookies, Gu Energy Gel and Blue Seventy goggles have been known to accompany the coffee. If you time it right, you may even have a dolphin—or 30—frolicking with you while you're out there.
Show Off Your Underpants
By now most people have heard about the annual Underpants Run but the history often seems to get lost in the hoopla. It began in 1998 with three triathletes who ran down Ali'i Drive in protest of those wearing "Speedo-type swimsuits" around town during Ironman Kona Week. The event, which benefits the Family Support Services of West Hawaii, and was most recently title sponsored by BVD, is now a mainstay on the Kona events calendar.
The shenanigans ensue at 8 a.m. on the Thursday during race week. Though the original runners sported tighty whities, the current, often colorful garb includes everything and anything that accentuates the human form in all its glory.
Take a Hike or a Dive
Those who require a little adventure, or an escape from the Kona craziness, can find respite not far from downtown. A seven-minute walk down a trail head at the very end of Ali'i Drive leads to a nondescript cliff that's the perfect spot for a peaceful rest or an adventurous jump. There are a couple of different ledges to leap from: The gutsiest go off the highest which requires a track start in order to launch over the ledges jutting out below. If you haven't been there before, be sure to ask someone who has to show you the way. And always check the water below to make sure it's safe enough—and deep enough—for a dive.
Once in the water, if you turn back toward where you came, there are two options: use the lull of the waves to help you latch onto the lava rock and scramble back up to where you jumped or explore the cave nestled just below the ledges.
Spectating at an Ironman is never easy but due to a few course changes over the years the race has gotten a little more spectator-friendly. The "hot corner" offers the most action as riders pass by three times on the bike course before they continue out to the Queen K Highway and on to the turnaround at Hawi (pronounced Ha-vee). Once the cyclists hit the Queen K, it's a good time for spectators to relax and fuel up before returning to catch athlete heading into transition and out for run.