Underwater Bike Races in North Carolina

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No sweat cycling

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2004.

Bonnie Obremski

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On the day Tour de France contenders cranked more than 1,000 feet up Cote de Borlon, some cyclists in Beaufort, N.C., dipped beneath the Atlantic’s surface for a 40-foot-long reef ride. Twenty-eight seal-skinned spectators and 12 competitors jockeyed for winner’s glory and a nifty neoprene mask strap in the 10th annual Underwater Bicycle Race on the Fourth of July.

For this race, organizers dump bikes about 14 miles from shore, where the landing-craft repair ship Indra sits on the bottom collecting coral. Divers plunge 65 feet, scrambling for a pair of wheels to tread to victory. One aqua-athlete painted her bike bright yellow in anticipation of a flashy lead. To prepare, divers release air from their buoyancy compensators in hopes of gaining traction.

Two riding strategies pit scuba-cyclers against one another. Purists kick off their fins to pedal across the sandy bottom. Others trail behind handlebars as if navigating a shopping cart, kicking for speed and distance. Race referee Debby Boyce, whose Discovery Diving Co. Inc. sponsors the event, awards the top pedaler a retractor hook and the top pusher, the mask strap. Divers ages 16 to 50 scuttle along the flank of the Indra, kicking up toadfish and flounder and bypassing living quarters for barracuda, amberjack and sea bass. Although the 2,125-ton ship — which was sunk by the Marines in 1992 — is 338 feet long, races tend to be shorter than that. The winner is the last one with diver and bicycle upright.

After 25 minutes of submersion, racers and spectators return to the surface. Winning bicycles are left for future wreck wanderers or join ranks with the artificial reef.