Biathlon offers kayakers and runners a unique view of one of South Carolina’s most pristine Sea Islands

(Note: This story originally appeared in the Beaufort Gazette in 2007).

By Will Martin
@wmartin89

Last February, Sea Island Rotarian Jack Cunningham found himself on the trails of Hunting Island agonizing over a pool of water. In one week, about 150 athletes would face what, thanks to steady rains, was now more pond than puddle. After an hour of plotting alternate paths, Cunningham had an epiphany fitting to the Hunting Island Adventure Biathlon.

“Heck with this,” Cunningham said to himself. “We’ll run through it.”

Unique. Beautiful. Charmed. The biathlon has been stamped with many an adjective, but in the end, it’s an adventure.

Set for Feb. 24, this year’s biathlon will begin in the Hunting Island lagoon, where kayakers will paddle for six miles into the Fripp Inlet before circling a buoy and returning to the lagoon. Having landed, they’ll lose their sea legs on a 4.5-mile run through the island’s trails toward the finish line. A word to the wise: expect the unexpected.

hunting_island_1Eight years ago, an unusually high tide greeted the first island biathletes with a detour. Having marked a portion of the trail run with flour, Cunningham and friends had lost their charted path to the ocean’s waves. Unsullied, they simply scattered and “took off running through the woods.””

When you put ‘adventure’ in the name of the race, all bets are off,” said Cunningham.

While challenging, the biathlon is no Everest. Participants can tackle the entire course by themselves, join a friend and split the kayaking and running duties, or go tandem and do the whole event as a pair. The race is broken down further between racing and touring kayak categories. And the Kayak Farm will provide kayaks on site for a reasonable rate.

“The big thing I want to get across is this is such a doable, friendly event,” said Cunningham, whose Sea Island Rotary is the lead sponsor of the event. “People should not in the least bit be intimidated by it.”

Sea Island Rotary President Bob Gross said the race draws two class of competitors. The first include talented athletes who have claimed Olympic gold and national titles, and are out to set records. The rest, Gross said, can often be found “just cruising.”

“It’s a very friendly kind of competing,” Cunningham said. “You’ll even see people helping each other with their boats.”

Perhaps the biathlon’s greatest draw is the venue.

“Pristine,” said Gross of the setting. “It’s the uniqueness of Hunting Island. We get a lot of people who are very, very enthused from all over the state and parts of the Southeast. They are very into it.”

Said Cunningham of the berm-laden course: “Every year we get people who will say ‘I never knew these trails were here. I never knew that Hunting Island had some hills.'”

The event, said Cunningham, is as noble as it is breathtaking. In addition to encouraging an active, healthy lifestyle, the biathlon’s proceeds head back into the local community through the Rotary.

“Last year, we were able to give back (to the community) around $5,000,” Cunningham said.

This year, with sponsors such as local outdoor-fitter Higher Ground handling much of the sponsorship, they’re hoping for closer to $10,000. And when all the kayaks have been docked and the trophies distributed, it’s off to Boundary Street for Higher Ground’s post-race party, with free chili and beer to participants which ensure the adventure won’t stay on the island.

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