Though Kona will always be known as the breathtaking location of the Ironman World Championships, it’s quickly gaining a reputation as the host for a race almost as iconic: The Kona Underpants Run, where triathletes scamper through the roads of the island wearing nothing more than a pair of underwear and a smile on the Thursday before the big race. Though Triathlete.com won’t be providing a live stream, we did take some time to talk with Paul Huddle, one of the original founders of the event before the 2012 event.
Triathlete.com: Normal people aren’t known for saying “hey, let’s run around Hawaii in our underwear!” How in the world did you come up with this idea?
Huddle: We had been racing in Kona since the mid-80s and, after a couple of years, it dawned on us that A LOT of the athletes would stroll around town, in restaurants, line at the post office, grocery stores, bank, etc. in their speedos. We just thought it was funny but we also started to witness firsthand how it offended the locals. Remember, this is Hawaii. There’s much more of a surf culture than there is a Mediterranean, San Tropez culture so it was far from normal. Since we all swam and raced in speedos, it wasn’t too far off normal for our sport but when you saw guys in stores, restaurants, and just strolling casually along Alii Drive in town, it became really funny to us. We started to have a contest when we’d arrive in town each year. We would play, “Who can spot the first speedo between the airport & town. Sometimes you’d see guys on bikes rolling up at the airport in their speedos because it was one of the few water stops in those days.
Anyway, it seemed to get worse each year as the race grew and the European and South American contingent became much stronger, the wearing of speedos became epidemic. Frankly, it was a problem. Here we were, guests in this great little community on the Big Island and, not only were we creating traffic jams by riding six-abreast but offending the sensibilities of the locals in their day-to-day lives. So, as a way of showing everyone how silly it looks and, therefore, hoping to decrease the number of offenders, we decided to do a little protest jog. Some friends and I decided to put on some basic tighty-whitey underpants and go for a jog at prime time (8 a.m. on Thursday before the race) from the lobby of the King Kam down Alii Drive to Lava Java and back. We jogged along and greeted people in foreign languages because it seemed that the other cultures that came to Kona for the race were the main offenders, though I have to admit, I saw a few Americans sporting wearing their speedos in all the wrong places too. There were just three of us so it was mildly unnerving to start but we got a lot of laughs and realized the most people “got it.” .
The next year we had 30 and it’s grown each year since then.
Triathlete.com: Most people don’t realize this is actually a charity race. Can you tell us a bit more about who benefits from the Underpants Run?
Huddle: I think it was about the third year we realized that, in addition to poking fun at people who still wore their “underpants” in all the wrong places, we had a platform that we could use to raise some money for the local community that welcomed us every year and put up with all of the inconveniences that come with a big event. We all know that these events provide a big economic impact but we are also acutely aware of the inconvenience that they can cause. We wanted to give something directly back to the community that is so closely tied to defining the pinnacle of our sport. In the first 5 or so years we gave all of the proceeds to West Hawaii Special Olympics. We still give them a portion but also benefit the Visitor Aloha Society (VASH) of Hawaii and Ahu’ena Heiau. VASH is a traveler’s aid organization whose mission is to share Aloha with visitors who have been victims of a crime or other adversities, and to provide follow-up assistance and support in an effort to create a positive memory of their stay in our islands. Ahu’ena Heiau (recently restored) is the religious temple that served Kamehameha the Great when he returned to the Big Island in 1812 and is located on the makai side of the King Kam Hotel. Ahu’ena Heiau, Inc. is the organization that acts as the permanent guide for the restoration and maintenance of this national treasure. Both of these are great causes that are locally based. We have had some long time support from Clif, Headsweats, and other companies that have paid for the t-shirts and hats we get made which allows every penny to go to the charities. Pacific Vibrations has been our start & finish location since the 2nd year of the event and owners, Mike & Simi McMichael have been huge supporters. I think we’re over $100k raised to date.
Triathlete.com: Is the Underpants Run an “anything goes” event, or are there rules — a method to the madness, if you will?
Huddle: There are definitely rules, but no one seems to follow them. Event rules are the same that they were in ’98:
1. Any version of white “mommy underwear” (also known as tighty whities, y-fronts, briefs, etc.) is permitted. Good sources include Duofold’s performance briefs made with Coolmax Alta or any variety of cotton three-packs available at Wal-Mart and other fine stores.
2. No boxers, long underwear, or stylish Euro-bikini briefs permitted.
3. Route must be completed by running, walking, or crawling. Heart rate monitors, black or argyle socks, bad hats, and earrings are optional.
4. While this event is considered a “moderately paced parade” rather than a “race”, pacing strategies are up to the participant.
5. No awards will be presented.
6. No aid stations will be provided.
7. Other rules to be decided as issues arise.
8. Rules committee (Tim Morris, Slice, Huddle, and Roch Frey) reserve the right to make things up as they go along.
9. All are welcome regardless of age, species (dogs welcome), gender, race, religious beliefs and/or nationality.
Triathlete.com: You’ve probably seen some pretty creative underpants. What are some of your favorites?
Huddle: The year we had a gal wear ONLY tighty whities. She cut a hole in the crotch of one of the pairs and her head went through that and the waistband was below, her, uh, how do I say this, breasts (photo here). Also, we’ve had three people on one giant pair of under pants (photo here) and, one year, we had a gal who wore M-dot stickers over her boobs. (photo here) Nice. Elvis has attended, we’ve seen Ryan Sutter of Bachelor fame and other notables.
Triathlete.com: One would assume that as the creator of the Underpants Run, there isn’t much that would get you flustered. Has there been anything at the run that made you blush?
Huddle: Not yet.
Triathlete.com: Wedgie etiquette: To pick or not to pick?
Huddle: Not pick. We’ve had our share of thongs at the UP Run. We try to discourage thongs among our male participants but you can’t always get what you want.
Triathlete.com: ’Fess up, Huddle: Will you be wearing boxers, briefs, or a banana hammock this year?
Huddle: Tighty whiteys. Always. I’m a rules guy. I don’t think people understand that the point isn’t to “look good.” It’s a protest run. We’re trying to show how ridiculous it looks to wear your underpants around town. Now we have people actually thinking about how good they can look in their underpants. I guess we come from this “look at me” crowd of triathletes. What can you do?
Triathlete.com: For those who will be in Kona, what are the registration and event-day details they need to know?
Huddle: Come by our booth in the Ironman Expo. It’s pretty simple, show up and run in your underpants. No entry fee or registration required. If you would like to get a limited edition Kona Underpants Run T-shirt or hat, however, all you need to do is donate some money. We have these available online at www.underpantsrun.org
There is a donation minimum for the hat and/or t-shirt BUT there is no maximum. Also, if you can’t swing the donation, you can still come out and run in your underpants.
One of my favorite stories about the Run is from was the year Faris Al-Sultan came out and ran with us. I knew Faris from covering the races all over the world and he was a GREAT swimmer and fearless cyclist but always seemed to fade in the run. That year he came to IMAZ and won. He arrived in Kona with all his possessions and bike in a cardboard box – true Faris style – and actually came out to do the Underpants Run two days before the most important race of his year – the Hawaii Ironman World Championship. Well, he happened to win the race. It’s important to note that he didn’t attend our run in the following years…and he never won again. I think that anyone doing the race who wants to do well should consider that simple fact.