Runners head toward the finish line in the first Nite Moves 5k run of the 2021 season. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

People were bustin’ their moves again on a Wednesday evening at the Santa Barbara waterfront.

Nite Moves, a weekly family-friendly endurance sports series and party that has been a spring-summer tradition since 1989, was back after the 2020 season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 300 participants of all ages gathered at Leadbetter Beach for the delayed opener, as Nites Moves normally starts in May. They were pumped to do either a 1-kilometer ocean swim or 5k run/walk, or both events.  Kids were excited about running a 1k dash that ended at the same finish line as the 5k.

At the conclusion of the swim, run/walk and aquathon (the combined events), athletes relaxed at a party that included live music, carnitas tacos and McConnells ice cream. 

Nite Moves owner and director Jay Campbell stopped from loading equipment in a van, gazed over at the party and smiled. He was elated to be back in business.

Ben Brewer

Ben Brewer, a former Santa Barbara High swim standout and a current California State lifeguard in Malibu, was the first out of the water in the 1k swim. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

“I think it went really well just because we were out here, and I loved it,” he said, proudly. “Everyone has been so supportive. I feel so blessed and I just feel honored that the people have come out for this event. The excitement level is top notch, and you can’t beat that.”

Nite Moves will run every Wednesday through Aug. 25.

Longtime participants were thrilled to have one of their favorite athletic and social events back in their lives.

Tim Lyons said he learned last week that Nite Moves was returning on Wednesday. He had pre-registered for the 2020 season in January, but that season never happened.

“I was hoping this would return, and it was a nice surprise, a great surprise,” he said after completing the aquathon.

Lyons said in the absence of Nite Moves “I rode my bike a lot and I swam. I just kept busy on my own.”

Nite Moves became a stepping stone for Lyons to start doing triathlons. He is preparing for the Malibu Triathlon in September and is considering doing the Santa Barbara Triathlon in August.

“I haven’t quite committed for Santa Barbara, but we’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see how the summer goes.”

Gesa Kirsch, who’s been doing Nite Moves for the last five years, ran the 5k with her friend Tony Schreiner, who just moved to Santa Barbara from Boston on Tuesday.

“It was fun,” said Schreiner of his debut. “I was glad to get back here in time to do this.”


The swimmers take their marks for the Nite Moves 1k swim at Leadbetter Beach. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Kirsch said last year was tough. She got out a few times to do awkward socially-distance runs with a couple of friends.

“We would meet on Wednesday before the sun went down and often do the (5k) route,” she said.

She was thrilled to line up again with the other runners at the start at Shoreline Park.

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed of the feeling to be on the starting line. “The first time I put on the bib it kind of hit me. Oh my God, I haven’t raced in a year and a half, so this is awesome.”

Tony Schreiner, Gesa Kirsch

Tony Schreiner, left, who just moved to Santa Barbara from Boston, did his first Nite Moves, while friend Gesa Kirsch was back for her fifth year. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

So, what makes Nite Moves so special to Kirsch?

“I just love the camaraderie, the spirit; it’s a family-friendly event that’s for kids, for dogs, for everyone.”

Christina Ekonomi and her 6-year-old son Colton ran. Colton did the 1k race for kids.

Colton thought he finished sixth, seventh or eighth. “I tried my best,” he said.

Christina has been doing Nite Moves before Colton was born.

“This is an awesome community event,” she said. “We’re so stoked it’s back. We were checking and hoping it would come back when things started opening up again.”

A triathlete who is preparing for an Ironman Triathlon in Sacramento in October, Christina said Nite Moves is a special event “because it brings a whole community together and it’s casual, but you could also be competitive. There’s some super fast people, but there’s all levels, so you can bring the kids out.”

She said having her kids there “keeps me motivated, knowing they’re seeing me at the finish line. And it’s motivating for them to go out and run, too, and just stay active and healthy. I think it’s more important now than ever.

Nite Moves Kids run

Director Jay Campbell gives final instructions before the start of the 1k kids run at Shoreline Park. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

“The last year, all of us have been like trapped inside, you know. I kept running outside but I’m not at the level I was before. So now with these competitions, there’s people you can feed off and it gets you more inspired.”

Another benefit of Nite Moves for the Ekonomi family, said Christina: “It’s a fun, family thing, and they have McConnell’s ice cream, which is a big draw.”

California native Bethany Smith was back in Santa Barbara from the United Kingdom, where she lives, and was doing her first Nite Moves. She did the swim and walked the 5k.

“I’m coming back from some injuries, so this was a nice swim and walk,” she said.

Asked of her impression of Nite Moves, “First of all, it’s amazing to be back, able to do events. And just the community feeling, so many nice people.”

Jay Campbell

Director Jay Campbell was working hard to make sure everything went smoothly on the first Nite Moves since 2019, (Gary Kim/ Noozhawk photo)

For Ben Brewer, a former Santa Barbara High swim standout and now a California State lifeguard in Malibu, doing Nite Moves again takes him back to when he was a kid. 

“It’s a funny little throwback,” he said. “It’s cool, though. It’s funny being one of the older ones with these swim club kids now.”

Chuckie Roth, the aquatics coach at San Marcos High and SBCC, and his wife Leslie were joined in the 1k swim by their sons Indiana, Kumani and Utah.

“All my kids do the 1k,” he said, “Kumani did a good job. I think he won the 1k, so he’s excited.”

Campbell was sweating like he did the run, but he wasn’t complaining. He was flushed with excitement to see everybody outside doing what they love to do.

“I feel so happy. It’s been tricky for all of us. It’s just good to be out,” he said.

When he sees a new generation of participants at Nite Moves, it gives him a special feeling.

“To me, it’s really my family,” he said. “We’re going on a third generation and I feel really honored to be part of that.”

Campbell has third generation Santa Barbara family members helping him, too.


The Night Moves T-shirt is one of the more popular pieces of athletic apparel in the Santa Barbara community. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

He said Irene Russo has been volunteering at Nite Moves for 30 years and her son, Russell, a former Santa Barbara High water polo player and now a teacher at Dos Pueblos High, is volunteering his time at the event.

“His wife, whom he met here, is going to have a little one. It’s just awesome. It warms you,” he said of the family ties to the Nite Moves.

Campbell admitted that 2020 was really tough on his business. He said he didn’t receive any government-assisted COVID-19 relief loans for small businesses.

“I was one of those businesses that wasn’t able to obtain anything, so it was tricky year and a half to say the least,” he said.

But Campbell won’t dwell on the past. He’d rather stay positive and look ahead. And Wednesday’s opener was a good reason to feel positive.

“It’s behind us, right? We’re looking forward,” he said. “I’m stoked. We’re all there. My sponsors have been phenomenal, all of them. This is part of Santa Barbara culture, how important this is to our community.

“They understand that. I understand that. That’s why I’m here.”

And the community is happy he’s back on Wednesday evenings.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Post-Race Party

Following the swim and run, participants mingle and relax at a party at Leadbetter Beach.  (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.