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About the Alcatraz Aquathlon & Swim

In 1979, along came Joe Oakes, back from the Ironman in Hawaii, with the notion of hooking an Alcatraz swim to the legendary 7-mile Dipsea Run in Marin County via a 15 mile bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. (By way of historical footnote, the Dipsea Run is the second oldest sanctioned foot race in the country – only the Boston Marathon is older).

“I liked the historical aspect of the Ironman, the way they tied pre-existing events together,“ Oakes says. “That’s what I wanted to do back home.”

So, in July, 1981, about twenty members of the Dolphin Club swam 1.5 miles from Alcatraz, bicycled 15 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and then ran 14 miles out-and-back on a punishing double Dipsea.

When Oakes realized that it was doable and that no one died, he opened the event to the public. In November, 1981, 65 people signed up for the event. By the third Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, held on August 28, 1982, 93 triathletes were happy to fork over $100 each to jump into the 57-degree water from Alcatraz.

However, behind the scenes and in what was becoming emblematic of the fast developing sport in those days came the questions of money, liability and expansion. The Dolphin Club voted to close the fourth Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon to the public and limit it to members of their club and the neighboring South-End Rowing Club arguing that the event had grown too unwieldy for them.

Joe Oakes had other – and bigger – plans. Countering that it was his idea in the first place, he declared that if the Dolphin Club wouldn’t put on a public event, he would stage his own, thus giving birth to the Alcatraz Challenge Triathlon, first held on August 13, 1983.


During the intervening years, the Alcatraz Challenge Triathlon has spawned any number of other commercial Alcatraz triathlons and swims.  And even the Challenge itself has evolved, dropping the bike segment and becoming the Aquathlon that it is today: a venue that allows racers to experience two of San Francisco’s pre-eminent landmarks – Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge – up close and personal.

Sign up today for a spectacularly scenic event and at the same time help support two of our favorite non-profit organizations who do so much to keep the San Francisco Bay and our oceans clean for our swimming and racing enjoyment: San Francisco BayKeeper and Surfrider Foundation.

Note:  The history of the Alcatraz Challenge Aquathlon & Swim is taken (liberally & literally) from an article written by Katherine Vaz in the 1983 summer edition of Triathlon Magazine.