Swimmers get a good start during the first portion of the 31st annual Bakersfield Triathlon in Lake Ming. 

Swimming in duck poop may not seem like the best start to a triathlon, but that is precisely how the first event of the inaugural Bakersfield Triathlon began.

Triathlons became exceedingly popular in the mid-1970s. The first modern event occurred on Sept. 25, 1974, in San Diego. The ultimate in triathlon competition, the Hawaii Ironman, started in 1978 and from there the tri-event competition continued to make its way across America and throughout Europe. Beginning in 1984, the Anheuser-Busch company decided to sponsor the growing sport and initiated the Bud Light Triathlon Series.

In 1981 Jim Moran, Bill Easton and Mike O’Haver came up with an idea to organize a triathlon in Bakersfield. Just two weeks later, at exactly 8 a.m. on May 9, 1981, the sound of the starting pistol ran though the spring air as 31 competitors kicked off the first Bakersfield Triathlon. Moran told the May 9, 1990, Californian: “It was a party. Nobody knew what we were getting into.”

The one thing they knew, though, was that everyone was there to have fun. The triathlon started on the grounds of Costerisan Ranch in southeast Bakersfield. Events occurred in an unconventional order, beginning with a quarter-mile swim in Lake Costerisan, followed by a 6-mile run, then concluding with a 20-mile round-trip bike trek.

Every year, the number of participants grew, and by 1985, it was a part of the Bud Light Triathlon Series. Sanctioned by the Association of Professional Triathletes and Triathlon Association USA, the event also served as an official qualifier for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii. Known then as the Bakersfield Bud Light Triathlon, it included a winning purse of $15,000, with equal prize money for men and women and airfare and accommodations to compete in the Ironman for the top Kern County finishers.

On Saturday, May 11, 1985, 1,000 triathletes began the fierce competition. The three-sport event of swimming, cycling and running now started and ended on the west shores of Lake Ming.

The first event was a 2-kilometer (1.24 miles) swim following a triangular course, followed by an arduous 40-km (25.15 miles) ride into town and back via Panorama Drive, Manor Drive, China Grade Loop and Alfred Harrell Highway. The final event, and most daunting of the three, was a 15-km (9.3 miles) run that challenged the triathletes through the many hills surrounding the lake and Hart Park.

In those early years, the event also endured some growing pains and almost ceased to exist when, in 1987, the Morans called it quits after the city raised permit fees by $5,500. The North Bakersfield Parks and Recreation District stepped forward to take control and the triathlon lived on through many more changes throughout the years.

In 1991 the Bakersfield Triathlon scaled back to a more manageable race in order to attract local participants. Although much smaller and no longer an Ironman qualifier, the event continued to endure. The Bakersfield Triathlon, now under the sponsorship of Action Sports and taking place in October, remains one of the longest-running and challenging triathlons in the United States. 

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