What began as a whimsical idea of creating a fun and competitive hill climb race series in West Hawaii finally turned into reality.
On Saturday, riders competed in and were introduced to the first of 10 cycling events from the Inaugural Big Island Hill Climb Racing Series — Hina Lani.
The event organizer was none other than Caleb Barville, a 17-year-old cycling phenom who is a senior at Kealakehe High School.
“The idea came from just watching videos online,” Barville said. “I’ve seen the United Kingdom’s hill climb racing series where they go to a different town every week and do an extremely hard hill climb. So I wanted to do something like that in Hawaii.”
The weekly cycling series will continue consecutively over the coming weeks and held on Saturdays. It will feature some of Kona’s most deceptively steep hill climbs with gradients ranging between 7 and 16 percent.
Riders will race against the clock upon varying uphill segments to set the fastest possible time they can, and hopefully, take home the title of KOM or QOM (King or Queen of the Mountain) along with the spoils of victory.
Barville said he had hoped for a turnout of at least 15 riders for Saturday’s season opener. He got 17.
“I was extremely surprised with the amount of people who turned out,” the Kailua-Kona resident said. “Everyone was super happy to be there and raced really well. I thought it went great.”
And of course, it wasn’t all that surprising for Barville to take top honors with the fastest time over the 1.8-mile course that began at the intersection of Hina Lani Street and Ane Keohokalole Highway, and ended at Anini Street with an average gradient of 7 percent. Barville finished in a time of 7 minutes and 57 seconds.
It happened to be the hill that he is most familiar with.
“I ride this hill a lot and so I mostly choose hills based upon my experience riding them, how possible it would be for other people to ride them, and the distance it would be from Kona so no one would really have to drive incredibly far to get to them,” Barville said. “I want the younger athletes to start joining in and doing it. And people in their teens and 20s and 30s. The average for people racing today was 55 years and that says a lot.”
The second fastest time went to Keauhou’s Penn Henderson, who decided to make this race his “wake-up call” after a two-month break from cycling, finishing in a time of 9:39.
Following Henderson was Peaman Peaman in 10:10, Josiah Randerson in fourth place at 10:19, and rounding out the top five was the first female, Tina Eakin, in a great time of 10:29.
About Caleb Barville
Barville’s passion for cycling began at the age of 14.
He was a freshman at Kealakehe High School and decided to join the Kealakehe Triathlon Club.
“I remember that Mrs. Old lent me a tri bike and I got into it pretty quickly and began riding to and from school,” Barville said. “I found out that you can explore a lot more while getting good exercise on the bike.
“Later, someone donated a road bike to the club and I asked to take it home to fix it up. Then I was able to start doing more hills and found that it’s way easier to shift going uphill. Then I began doing some of the cycling club events.”
As Barville began competing in local cycling races, his natural talent in swimming and running also progressed which drew his attention to participating in the monthly Peaman Biathlons, Team Mango triathlon events, and Lavaman Waikoloa Olympic Distance Triathlon.
Then on a family trip to Chelan, Washington in the summer of 2017, Barville decided to compete in his first out of state triathlon, an Olympic distance competition called the Chelanman Triathlon.
“I was visiting my grandparents and found a triathlon race that I wanted to do,” he said. “We drove eight hours to the race event and it was freezing!”
Barville said he was pumped when he exited the swim in 10th position, and upon nearing the end the bike segment, found out that he had moved into second place.
However, the built up excitement and adrenaline rushing through his veins had him blazing through the bike-to-run transition area in what Barville estimated to be near 20 mph.
“I was going way too fast when I stepped off my bike,” Barville recalled. “Then my bike hit the curb and fell over right in front of me causing me to trip, and I landed sprawled over the bike. My ankle and Achilles went straight into the chain ring.”
Barville said he tried to jump back up and keep going but realized that he couldn’t take a step.
“I tried to step forward but I couldn’t lift my heel to gain any leverage,” he recalled. “That’s when I knew something was wrong. It took like a minute or two for it to bleed, but then everything was covered in blood.
Barville had severed his Achilles tendon.
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t bike for the rest of the trip,” he said. “Then I ended up having to do nine months of physical therapy. When I finally got the go ahead to run, I was surprised that it came back pretty instantly, but I was running with really bad form. Like I could do a 5:30 minute pace per mile for a 5K, but a few weeks later everything was sore and I couldn’t do it anymore because I would have this horrible limp.”
Barville competed in last year’s Lavaman Waikoloa finishing in a time of 2:29:41, but realized that his return to running would take a while longer.
“I’m mainly only riding my bike now,” he said. “After Lavaman I decided that I would just ride.
Barville, who works in sales and coordinates all social media for the Kona Sports Center, said he enjoys free diving, spear fishing and blue water diving during his spare time. He also plans to attend Western Washington University to major in kinesiology.
Barville hopes his Big Island Hill Climb Racing Series will continue to attract all levels of riders, from beginners to elite racers.
“I want more people to start riding the hills and know that cycling is not always about endurance, you can do a short ride and still feel pain. You can enjoy cycling and not have to spend hours on the road.”