The event happens year in, year out, May through August, and lures participants to the park, where they can participate in a 5K run, a 1K ocean swim — or both, in the “Aquathon.” This season’s final Nite Moves event will be Wednesday.
Even if you’re not racing, taking in the view of the sailboats just off the park’s coastline makes the event worthwhile. Sticking around to hear the weekly bands that play during the event and grabbing some beer and food from the event’s sponsors are added bonuses to the beautiful setting.
Just before a swim on a recent Wednesday, Jake Clinton, the force behind the event, took time to share some Nite Moves history.
Clinton and two other friends, Chris Holmberg and Eddie St. Clair, all runners, decided to start their own Santa Barbara event. When Leadbetter Beach was picked in 1989 for Nite Moves, it was an underutilized park, Clinton said. Nowadays, it’s one of the city’s most popular oceanfront sites.
At the trio’s opening night, 298 people showed up, a turnout for which Clinton said he wasn’t prepared. During the next six weeks, participation crested at more than 700 people at one point.
“We knew we had a hit,” he said.
Now that Nite Moves is in its 21st season, turnout is still fairly consistent, with about 350 people turning out weekly, Clinton said. That’s down about 75 participants from last year, which Clinton said is mostly because of the economy. When gas prices soared last summer, the Nite Movers who came to participate from out of town were forced to cut back; Clinton said he’s had people come as far as Bakersfield to swim and run.
But just because organizers have seen a slight drop in turnout doesn’t mean Clinton has slowed his plans to move Nite Moves forward. He’s been working on a design layout for a Nite Moves event in San Diego, and hopes to expand in Boise, seemingly an unlikely place for such an event. Although it doesn’t have an ocean coastline, the Idaho capital borders a river that would work perfectly, and was the idea of a former Nite Mover who relocated there.
Participating in Nite Moves costs $25 the first time, and $20 after that, and $235 for a whole season. Clinton is quick to say that the price includes a Nite Moves T-shirt, and for those of legal drinking age, a complementary beer provided by a sponsor. Participants also get a ticket for a raffle drawing that provides a fee wetsuit.
“I’ve always been putting back into this event to make it better and better,” adding better clocks and timing equipment, he said.
Volunteer Jose Gonzalez, who’s helped with the event since its inception, said the group that shows up every week functions as a mini-community. He said he’s seen many friendships and relationships begin and blossom during Nite Moves. For example, a couple who met at Nite Moves got married years ago. Their 11-year-old child was singing in the band that performed earlier this month.
“Every night here is beautiful,” he said. “Everybody has their own goal. Some are triathletes, some are swimmers. We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have everybody.”