The History of Aquabike Racing

When you try to find out about the history of aquabike races and when and where it all started, you usually get to hear (or to read), that the first races happened to be in the year 2005 in the United States. But that´s actually not the whole story. The first races happened a few years earlier in a place that you probably wouldn´t guess.

The History of Aquabike Racing

I have to start with a disclaimer though: I tried to find the first aquabike race in each country, many of which are not very well documented. It could well be that there have been earlier races in some countries. So if you know about any earlier race than those mentioned here, please let me know!

 

The early years

Full list of races participating in the Aquabike Series in 2005
Full list of races participating in the Aquabike Series in 2005

The Aquabike Series was a pilot program in 2005 that was brought to USA Triathlon by one of its members. Dean Peterson of Peoria, Ariz. Peterson had spoken with many triathletes that felt they would be interested in a format in which athletes could compete in the swim and the bike portions of a half or ultra-distance triathlon. He brought the idea to then USA Triathlon’s acting Executive Director, Mike Greer, who got the race directors to provide a course. Race directors then agreed to provide times and placements for these athletes.

That´s what you can find on Team USA´s website about the History of Aquabike. The pilot program for aquabike races consisted of 11 races across the United States. The first two of them happened on the very same day. The Halfmax Triathlon in Innsbrook, Missouri and the Mooseman Half Triathlon in Briston, New Hampshire both took place on June 5th in 2005. Unfortunately I couldn´t find any results of the Mooseman. The winners of the aquabike race at the Halfmax Triathlon were Larry Doerr in the men´s and Karla Lang in the women´s race.

However those were not the winners of the very first aquabike race. Because that actually happened five years earlier in a very different place.

August 19th 2000 – the very first aquabike race

Well, it wasn´t called aquabike, and the distance wasn´t over one of the classical triathlon distances. It actually wasn´t even part of a triathlon, but a “standalone” swim & bike event. The first “Swim & Bike Werbellinsee” took place on the 19th of August at the lake “Werbellinsee” near Eberswalde in eastern Germany . It was a 5 km swim followed by a 110 km bike leg. The event was organized by the local swim club (that might explain the pretty long swim distance) and soon became a traditional and popular event that was organized for many years. The distances changed though. At the second edition there were two races. One with a 2 km swim and 110 km bike and a shorter race with half of the distance. After a break in 2012 due to bureaucratic obstacles the last edition happened to be in 2013 before the format changed into the “Swim & Bike Cross” which was organized from 2015 to 2019. Retrospectively you can say that Helge Borchert, the swim club´s chairman and founder of the event, was really ahead of the times with this event. Despite it´s popularity within local swim and bike athletes, the Swim & Bike Werbellinsee seemed to be pretty much ignored by the world of multisports.

So it didn´t find any imitators in Germany or anywhere else in Europe. Even after aquabike became more and more popular in Europe especially after the first European Championships in 2018, it wasn´t before 2022 that the first “classical” aquabike race within a triathlon took place in Germany. So ironically the country where the very first aquabike race took place is now one of the very last countries in Europe to really include it in at least some triathlon events.

Aquabike becomes popular in USA & Canada

Meanwhile the pilot program of the USAT in 2005 was obviously a success. Because it was continued over the following years. The first aquabike races in Canada also started in 2006, first of which was at the National Capital Triathlon & Duathlon in Ottawa on the 5th of August.

Starting in 2010 the USAT introduced a stand-alone rankings program for aquabike athletes. Two years later the very first Aquabike National Champoinships were introduced. On the 24th of June in Richmond, Virgina in conjunction with the “I Love the Tavern Triathlon” – by the way the best name for a triathlon event I have ever heard of!

 

First races in Europe

The first aquabike races in Europe (besides the Swim & Bike Werbellinsee) were organized in 2011. But also not in the country you might think of. The “Troféu Nacional Aquabike” consisted of three aquabike races in Portugal . The first one was the Aquabike de Castanheira de Pêra on the 8th of May. But the series was organized for only one year. In 2012 there was one more aquabike race before Portugal even had national championships in 2013 and 2014. But after that aquabike again disappeared from the Portuguese multisport calendar for quite a few years. With one exception: There is a quite active multisport community on the island of Madeira which also organized at least one but sometimes two or three aquabike races each and every year since 2012.

2012 was also the year of the first aquabike races in England . The very first was the so called Aquacycle at Ellerton Lake on the 21st of July, organized by Gr8events. So the UK was actually only the third country in Europe where aquabike races were organized – but the first one in which they were here to stay.

The next to follow was Ireland with the first aquabike race at the Fingal Triathlon Club Skerries Triathlon in 2015. In 2016 we had the first swim-bike event in Spain . Or actually a swim-bike-swim event. I Binathlon von La Sotonera took place on the 27th of August and attracted more than 100 athletes. The uncommon format contained a 1,2 km swim, followed by a 28 km bike leg, before jumping back into the water for another swim of 600 meters. Unfortunately the event was organized for one more time only in 2017. After that aquabike racing in Spain fell asleep again. The first aquabike race included in a triathlon was at the Triatlon Salamanca in 2019 and 2020, before several aquabike events popped up in Spain 2021, when also the first national championships were held at the Bilbao Triathlon – so now it seems like aquabike racing is here to stay.

 

Aquabike becomes official

ITU Aquabike Competition Rules 2015
ITU Aquabike Competition Rules 2016

Although there didn´t really happen too much in terms of racing, the year 2016 still marks an important point in aquabike racing. The 2016 ITU competition rules included aquabike races for the first time. The rules were quite limited. One of them: “Aquabike events will be organised only under Long Distance and for Age Group categories, and included in the program of a Long Distance Triathlon event.”  The last part of this rule presumably opened the door for many aquabike races which came up the following years. Because it made race organizers (and probably also national federations) aware, that they can be fully included in a triathlon. What seems obvious in coutries where aquabike races were long established at that time, apparently wasn´t so clear in other countries. The few trials of starting swim & bike competitions in mainland Europe were all standalone events, not included in a triathlon. That might be attractive for aquabike athletes, but not for race organizers. Because the organizational efforts are barely smaller as for a triathlon – with way less potential athletes. But if you include an aquabike race in a triathlon, the additional organizational efforts are quite reasonable.

Although there wasn´t yet any ITU sanctioned aquabike race in 2016, by including it in the competition rules the ITU basically gave the official starting signal to this discipline. And the term “aquabike” was now officially established. It´s been used for swim & bike races in the US for 11 years at that time. But in other countries terms like aquavelo, aquacycle or simply swimbike have been used. Although a standardization of the term that is used for this format certainly makes sense, I might add that there would have been better choices, since “aquabike” is used for very different things already. However, since it was long in use in the US it seemed kind of natural. So aquabike it is what we´re doing now ;-).

 

First World Championships in 2017

Results of the first Aquabike World Championships 2017 in Penticton, Canada
Results of the first Aquabike World Championships 2017 in Penticton, Canada

For the first time in 2017 aquabike was included in the ITU Multisport Championships which took place in Penticton, Canada. With 342 aquabike athletes at the start line of this young discipline it was quite popular from the very beginning. But since there haven´t really been a lot of aquabike races in mainland Europe, only two athletes from Germany and two from Denmark were competing for gold, silver and bronze medals in the age groups. There is never an official overall winner in international aquabike championships but of course it´s still worth checking who the fastest athletes were across all age groups in the very first world championships. It might be a bit of a surprise that there wasn´t even a US athlete on the podium. It was Stephen Sheldrake from New Zealand taking the victory in an overall time of 03:45:27, two minutes ahead of Jan Henningsen of Denmark, closely followed by James McNaughton from Canada. In the women´s race we saw a british double win. Maria Powell was the fastest in 04:09:36, only 33 seconds ahead of Amy Pritchard with Kirsten Sass from the US only two more seconds behind (» see full results). You might wonder about the finish times, which seem a little short for a long distance race. Those days the ITU apparently tried to introduce their own standards for race distances, with a 3 km swim, a 120 km bike leg (and for the triathlon a 30 km run) before eventually giving in and changing to the traditional ironman distance from 2021.

It wasn´t a coincidence that the fastest man of the day came from New Zealand. The Kiwis made up the third largest group of aquabike athletes (with the US and Canada as the two biggest of course), with no less than 35 athletes travelling all the way over the pacific ocean. And they didn´t come for sightseeing. With five gold, three silver and three bronze medals New Zealand was the second most sucessful nation of the first aquabike championships behind the United States – and even before the hosting country where aquabike also was long established at that time.

Medal Table of the first Aquabike World Championships

RankCountryGold MedalsSilver MedalsBronze Medals
1. United States of America 10 15 8
2. New Zealand 5 3 3
3. Canada 4 4 6
4. United Kingdom 3 0 1
5. Australia 1 1 2
6. Germany 1 0 1
7. Ireland 1 0 0
8. Denmark 1 0 0
9. Mexico 0 1 0
10. Brazil 0 0 2

And that was for a reason. Earlier this year, on the 25th of March 2017, New Zealand had its first national aquabike championship race. It was introduced due to an initiative of New Zealand´s triathlon legend Garth Barfoot (who by the way won the silver medal later in Penticton in the age group 80 – 84!) and saw no less than 81 finishers. A pretty big number for the first race in such a small country, but the incentives were nothing to sneeze at. The top three of each age group won an eight nights shared accommodation for the World´s in Penticton. The first overall male and female were even awarded with flights to Vancouver.

After this initial spark aquabike became quite popular in New Zealand. Not quite as much over in Australia . The first aquabike race there took also place in early 2017. Though it was actually not a classic aquabike race, since it was an offroad event at the TreX Qld on February 2nd. The first “real” aquabike race followed almost two years later on the 4th of November in 2018 at the Husky Triathlon. An event that also hosted the first national aquabike championships in Australia in 2021.

But there was one more country to have its first aquabike race in 2017. On July 15th an aquabike race was included in the Fadd-Dombori Triatlon Fesztival in Hungary for the first time. It continued to be part of this yearly event, but unfortunately is still the only aquabike race on the Hungarian race calendar until today.

 

First European Championships in 2018

First European Aquabike Championships in Ibiza 2018
Results of the first European Aquabike Championships 2018 in Ibiza

One year after the ITU introduced aquabike in the world championships for the first time, the European Triathlon Union followed to include this still young discipline in the first Multisport European Championships. It took place in Ibiza on the 28th of October. Other than the World´s which are held over the long distance, the European Championships are a middle distance race. At least it should be. Because the weather god wasn´t with triathletes and aquabikers that day. Due to heavy storms and torrential rain the bike leg was shortened to one lap of 46 km only.

With still very little races at mainland Europe it´s not a big surprise that Great Britain had by far the biggest number of aquabike athletes on the start line. Especially in the women´s race. 57 out of the 70 female athletes came from the British Island. So it wasn´t a big surprise that the podium was firmly in British hands. Nevertheless the performances were quite remarkable. It was Brittany Tate who was the fastest in 1:47:42, followed by Amy Pritchard (+ 01:16) and Melissa Dowell (+ 02:26).

The men´s race was slightly more international, especially in the top ranks. Other than in the women´s race there was no UK athlete on the podium of the overall classification. It was Spain´s Ismail Parrilla Ponce who was the fastest man that day in a time of 01:39:37, taking the win one minute and five seconds ahead of his fellow countryman David Guimera Callau with Leif Johannsen from Germany only eleven more seconds behind (» full results).

But the European Championships haven´t been the first big international aquabike race in Europe. Three months earlier it was the second Aquabike World Championships that took place in Fyn, Denmark. It was also the first ever aquabike race in Denmark and led the Danish Triathlon Federation to the decision to hold national aquabike championships from the following year. The result of the men´s race might have had an impact on that decision since it saw a Danish double victory with Claus Crone taking the win more than five minutes ahead of Eskild Ebbesen with US athlete Adam Voss in third place. The women´s race was – once again – dominated by British athletes. This time it was Amy Pritchard finally making it to the top of the podium, while New Zealand´s Mikayla Harvey prevented a British Double win by taking second place ahead of Alex Clay.

Despite having the first European Championships and also the World Championships on European soil, 2018 still wasn´t really a breakthrough year for aquabike racing in mainland Europe. Beside those two big events, the sprint distance aquabike race at the Fadd-Dombori Triatlon Fesztival in Hungary which was introduced the year before, still was the only classical aquabike race on the continent. There has been another small race in Italy at the “Sport in Festa” on the 23rd of June. So that marks the date of the first aquabike race in Italy . It was an offroad race though with a 400 meter pool swim and a 10 km offroad bike leg. The first aquabike race on the road followed a year later when aquabike was included in the Challenge Riccione on the 5th of May for the first time.

 

Aquabike racing becomes international

Although there have been World Championships since 2017 there still have been barely any aquabike races around the world outside the USA, Canada and Great Britain. But this started to change in 2019. Italy was the first but not the only country to have its first aquabike race that year.

But the racing season started straight forward with the biggest race of the season. The World Championships took place on the 4th of May in Pontevedra, Spain. And it wasn´t only the biggest race of the season. With no less than 408 finishers that race was the biggest ever aquabike race in the young history of this sport until today. Athletes from 21 countries started the race, with Frenchman Mathieu Dupont taking the win in the men´s race ahead of Chris Stanton (GB) while the women´s race once again saw a British double victory. This time it was Mathilde Pauls taking the win only five seconds ahead of Amy Pritchard.

A month later we saw the first classical aquabike race in Italy at the Challenge Riccione with the first ever aquabike race in Slovakia another month later. The Pressburg Aquabike took place on the 9th of June and had a quite prominent winner: Richard Varga, world class triathlete and one of the best swimmers in the world of professional triathlon. That might helped to give aquabike racing a bit of a kickstart in Slovakia with some more races popping up the following years and the first national championships at the Pressburg Aquabike in 2021 – also won by Richard Varga.

On June 16th we also had the first aquabike race in Austria at the Waldviertler Eisenmann, with the second race at the Challenge Walchsee-Kaiserwinkl only two weeks later. Austria is certainly the country on the European continent where aquabike gained the most acceptance ever since then with no less than 15 races currently on the event calendar for 2022.

But also France had its first aquabike race in June 2019. It was on the 30th of that month when the traditional and popular Ch´Tri Man Gravelines included an aquabike option in the triathlon for the first time.

A week later the European Championships were held in Târgu Mureș, Romania . Still with the British team with by far the biggest number of athletes on the start line, it´s certainly not a big surprise that the women´s race once again resulted in the traditional English double win. This time it was Amy Pritchard with a stunning performance (beaten by only three men that day) taking the first spot almost seven minutes ahead of Melissa Dowell. In the men´s race it was young Romanian athlete Erick Rogoz Lörincz winning on home soil ahead of Britain´s Callum Lelliot. Unfortunately the European Championships remained the only aquabike race in Romania until today.

But there were still some more countries adding aquabike races to their event calendar in 2019. On September 7th it was the Triglav Triathlon in Bled to hold the first national aquabike championship in Slovenia , which also was the first ever aquabike race in this country.

On the 5th of October it was the very first aquabike race in the Caribbean region. The Braves AquaBike Race took place at Las Cuevas Beach on the north coast of Trinidad .

The first aquabike race in Greece was held at the Schinias Triathlon on the 20th of October at the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre just outside of Athens.

And there was still one more premiere race to come this year. Brazil had it´s first aquabike race on the 15th of November within the Blue Series Triathlon in Parque Ecoesportivo Damha, Sao Carlos – São Paulo. The race was also hosting the first national championships in Brazil two years later.

Countries hosting aquabike races

 

The pandemic years

With new aquabike races appearing on the race calendar all around the world in 2019, it really looked like 2020 becomes the breakthrough year for this young sports outside the US and the British Islands. Early in the year, on the 5th of January, we had the first ever aquabike race in South Africa at the Blyde Triathlon & Aquabike. Although – like in some other countries – the first one wasn´t a classical aquabike since the bike leg was an offroad course. Also the swim at this event is kind of atypical since it´s a pool swim – in  a 190 meter long pool. However, the first onroad aquabike race followed at the other end of the year on the 6th of December at the Joburg Ultra.

But as we all know that year in between developed a bit different than we all expected. The race calendar was dramatically narrowed, with many countries not allowing any mass sport event throughout the year. The World Championships were postponed to 2021. The European´s which were planned in Austria at Challenge Walchsee-Kaiserwinkl were first postponed to Challenge Bled in September before they were eventually cancelled and awarded “back” to the event in Austria for 2021.

But there still was another little bright spot in 2020. While most countries still didn´t allow any sport events, the Valgjärve I Aquabike took place on the 25th of July – the very first aquabike race in Estonia . Unfortunately it wasn´t continued in 2021 and so remained the only aqubike race in Estonia until today.

In August a few more countries allowed mass sports events – so did Switzerland . So everything was well prepared for the first ever Swiss aquabike race at the Challenge Davos. While the pro triathletes already started the race in the Davosersee, agegroup triathlon and aquabike athletes were waiting for their race to begin. But they couldn´t. Due to approaching thunderstorms around the lake and also heavy thunderstorms over the Flüelipass the race had to be cancelled just minutes before the start. So it took another year for the first aquabike race in Switzerland. On August 28th in 2021 the race finally passed off without any difficulties.

Also the European and World Championship races could finally take place in 2021. Only the first World Championships over the standard distance, which was planned to be held in Edmonton, Canada unfortunately had to be cancelled.

With still many race cancellations in the early season the European Championships at Challenge Walchsee in Austria was the opening race for many athletes in 2021. One of the few countries (or maybe the only country in Europe) which already had a quite busy race calendar was Great Britain. But ironically British athletes were not allowed to travel to Austria at that time due to travel restrictions. So by no surprise the startlist of this race was the shortest of any international aquabike championships so far. However, 88 athletes from 18 countries in the European Championships race and another 48 athletes at the open race showed that aquabike is certainly gaining some popularity amongst athletes in Europe outside Great Britain as well. Fastest man of the day was Belgian Adam Lambrechts who showed an impressive performance, putting more than nine minutes into second placed Dalibor Riska from Slovakia. With the strong British girls absent the women´s race was dominated by athletes from Germany this time. The fastest was Stefanie Tänzler, winning two and a half minutes ahead of her fellow countrywoman Bettina Lange.

In August the program of the Multisport World Championships in Almere (Netherlands) was quite diminished. Besides the Long Distance Triathlon it was Aquabike as the only discipline that could hold their World Championships as planned. So this event also marked the first ever aquabike race in the Netherlands . Despite athletes from Great Britain were now basically allowed to travel to the Netherlands, some restrictions still applied – also for other countries. So with 147 athletes the number of competitors still was much smaller than in previous years. But still Adam Lambrechts showed that his victory at the Europeans back in June certainly wasn´t due to lack of competition. He was again the fastest man of the day, no less than 16 minutes ahead of Kurt Holt (USA). Absolutely impressive performance once again by the 29 year old Belgian. With the strongest British aquabike girls of the last years not on the start list it was Sara Baumann from Switzerland clocking the fastest time in the women´s race, one minute and 26 seconds ahead of Felicity Joyce from the United States.

The first national aquabike race in the Netherlands followed only two weeks later at the UT Triathlon. The year before it was planned two weeks before the World´s and would have been a perfect preparation race for local athletes. But since both races could not take place in 2020 and for 2021 the World´s was scheduled a bit earlier, the aquabike race at the UT Triathlon had to wait a little longer for its premier race.

 

Launch of aquabike.events

Aquabike Ranking EuropeOK, OK… it might be a bit presumptuous to mark the launch of our little project here as an important part in the history of aquabiking. But I sincerely hope that we contribute a little bit to make this multisport discipline a bit more popular. And some of our work certainly helps to be up to date about what is going on in the world of aquabike racing, especially in Europe. So maybe check out our Aquabike Ranking Europe if you´d like to get to know who are currently the best aquabike athletes in Europe. You can find out about the most sucessful athletes in aquabike history – and of course also the most sucessful countries. Also you can find results of any aquabike race in Europe since 2021 and of any national or international championship race since 2017. And of course you can find any aquabike race in Europe for the upcoming season.

 

2022 – the breakthrough year for aquabike racing?

With many countries already lifting their COVID-related restrictions step by step over the last few weeks and months, it really looks like we might have a full racing season again in 2022. And this could certainly be a breakthrough year for aquabike racing. We now have more than 200 races all over Europe in our race calendar, many of which will include an  aquabike option in their triathlon events for the first time with some serious candidates for your bucket list (check out the five hardest aquabike races in 2022). We now have six countries to hold national championships: Ireland, Denmark, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Poland (check out the 2022 Aquabike Championships Calendar for all dates). Spain is not only the first country outside the United States to have national aquabike championships over two race distances. There are also quite a few more new aquabike competitions on the 2022 race calendar. But there is another country that will even have three national championships in 2022: Poland. The national aquabike championships over the sprint distance in Rzeszóv on the 5th of June will be the first ever aquabike race in Poland , followed by championship races over standard and long distance later in the year.

2022 will also be the comeback year of aquabike in Germany . Nine years after the last edition of the traditional Swim & Bike Werbellinsee Germany will finally have an aquabike competition again. This time at the Vierlanden Triathlon near Hamburg on May 29th.

There are two other countries new on the aquabike race calendar in 2022. After the race had to be cancelled in 2021, the Challenge Vansbro will host the first aquabike race in Sweden on the 3rd of July this year. And on August 28th also Belgium will have it´s first ever aquabike race at the Triatlonweekend Viersel, which will also be the first Belgian National Aquabike Championship.

And finally we will – hopefully – see the premier of the Aquabike World Championships over the standard distance in Abu Dhabi which is scheduled for the 5th of November.

The Multisport World Championships, including the Long Distance Aquabike World Championships were actually planned in Australia. In December 2021 this event was cancelled, since severe travel restrictions were still in place for Australia at that time. New date and location should have been announced “withing the next weeks”. But it seems like the ITU was struggling to find a new organizer. Because it wasn´t before March when the x-bionic® sphere in Šamorín, Slovakia was finally announced as new location of the World Championships. It will be held in conjunction with the Collins Cup, which takes place the day before, over the same distance. So for the aquabike athletes it´s a 2 km swim, followed by a 80 km bike leg. Despite the distance actually being shorter than a middle distance race, it´s still called the Long Distance World Championship.

 

Aquabike History in a nutshell

You can find the summary and most important events throughout the young history of aquabike racing in our Aquabike History Timeline infographics. You´re welcome to share it (as long as you leave the copyright reference where it is 😉

Aquabike History Timeline
Aquabike History Timeline
Share