The Nautica Malibu Triathlon has been a popular event helping signify the end of summer in Malibu since its inception in 1987.
However, with popularity come crowds of competitors of all skill levels, which has continued to present obstacles for organizers and officials hoping to keep the course safe for all participants.
“It was a very grassroots event in 1987,” said Michael Epstein of Michael Epstein Sports Productions, the organization behind the event. “Everything from the number of police to the number of cones to the traffic control plans are improved over 1987.”
Injuries at this year’s race have some participants especially concerned over the closed course’s safety, though.
One such participant is Peter Filsinger, a Pacific Palisades resident who was involved in an accident with a truck while on the bike section of the race Sat., Sept. 13.
“I used to do a bunch of triathlons every year, but in the past three or four years, I’ve only been doing the Malibu Triathlon because it’s beautiful, it’s a beautiful area, it’s a great distance… and I’ve been under the assumption that I’ll be safe,” Filsinger said.
During the race, cones are used to close the outside lanes of PCH and allow a safe space for the athletes – which now number over 5,000 – away from cars and trucks. However, Filsinger stated, cars coming out of driveways must cross over the lanes to get onto PCH, blocking the way for oncoming bicycles.
“I believed he was going to be looking in both directions for cars, but he had his car right in the middle of the bike lane and this was right in the middle of a downhill section of the race,” Filsinger said, adding, “I was going 20 or 25 miles per hour and I didn’t have any time to stop.”
Filsinger claimed that after his bike hit the side of the car near the Nicholas Canyon County Beach parking lot, he flew over its windshield and suffered an eight-inch gash on his arm, a twisted knee and multiple bruises. He also claimed this type of accident can easily be avoided.
Epstein said that organizers work diligently to ensure these types of accidents do not occur.
“Safety is something that we really work on year round, and we’re very very proud of our safety record for the event,” Epstein said.
Regarding Filsinger’s accident, Epstein said organizers will look into it.
“We haven’t had a chance to completely investigate what happened, but we definitely will,” Epstein said, adding, “we’ll go from there.”
According to Det. Curry with the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriffs Station, who coordinated the Sheriff’s involvement with safety at the triathlon, Filsinger’s accident was the only issue participants had involving PCH traffic, but it was not the only injury.
“There was one that ran off the course and got hurt,” Curry said, “There was one that ran into the ‘lane closed’ signs on barricades.”
A forum on Slowtwitch.com, an online triathlon magazine, has filled up with commentators complaining of safety issues following the event. For many of the commentators, it’s the influx of inexperienced competitors that has made the event more dangerous.
“This event attracts people who are new to the sport, primarily funneled in by the corporate teams. I’d be willing to bet that maybe 1 out 4 participants in this event can actually fix a flat,” wote a user identified as “alex_korr.”
“The sheer numbers of inexperienced triathletes/cyclists on the road made it hazardous,” added another user.
Despite these complaints, city officials and event organizers both agree keeping the event safe is a viable goal and a top priority every year.
“Every year we … meet with them and go over issues and try to see if there’s anything we can do better,” City Manager Jim Thorsen said.
“We want to make sure it’s as safe as humanly possible for the athletes,” Epstein said.
According to Public Safety Commissioner Carol Randall, the Public Safety Commission will likely be discussing safety at the events at their monthly meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 1.
“I have heard nothing [about safety concerns],” Randall said, adding “but I imagine we’ll be briefed at our meeting.”