Celebrating Ten Years: Steve and Megan Gemelos’ Labor of Love
The saying “labor of love” means different things to different people. To Steve and Megan Gemelos – co- founders of the California Enduro Series (CES) – it means crafting the most inspiring enduro mountain bike race series possible. Ten years into the project, the series has seen extraordinary growth and has attracted countless riders to the enduro format.
We got to talk with Steve and Megan and about the series’ origins, its high points and challenges, and what it’s like to run a popular race series while balancing careers and family.
WHEN DID YOUR PASSION FOR MOUNTAIN BIKING RACE EVENTS BEGIN?
Megan and I have been avid mountain bikers for ages and have strong ties to the sport in Santa Cruz. We served on the board of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC – now Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship) from 2007 to 2016 and pushed the idea of using events to build the mountain biking community, fundraise for trail development, and show local businesses and government officials how the sport can economically benefit our area.
Together with other dedicated MBOSC members, we helped create the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Fox racingestival (SCMBF) in 2009. The festival, which featured several mountain bike races and contests, was an immediate success and grew to over 11,000 participants with over 100 industry vendors and sponsors. This popular community event clearly demonstrated the importance of legal mountain biking access in Santa Cruz County and helped grow our passion for mountain biking events.
YOU BOTH PLAYED PIVOTAL ROLES IN BRINGING AN ENDURO RACE – THE FIRST EVER SANTA CRUZ SUPER ENDURO – TO THE SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS. HOW DID THAT COME TO BE?
Local pro mountain bike racer Evan Turpen had seen the enduro race format growing in Europe and wanted to bring such an event to Santa Cruz. He partnered with MBOSC to make it happen,
and the first-ever Santa Cruz Super Enduro (SCSE) took place as part of the 2012 SCMFB on the world-class trails of Soquel Demonstration State Forest (Demo). It was an extraordinary experience for Megan and me, working hard alongside our MBOSC friends to bring this thrilling new format to our local trails.
Out of that inaugural event, Megan and I developed a vision for SCSE’s second year: a fun-filled mountain bike race weekend at Demo. Presented again by MBOSC, the 2013 event included tent camping, catered meals, and a post- race celebration complete with live music and plenty of beer. That incredible weekend of racing and camaraderie would later serve as inspiration for the vibe of CES events.
SO, HOW DID THE CALIFORNIA ENDURO SERIES COME TO BE?
In 2012, while Megan and I were running the SCMBF and SCSE with MBOSC, we met Erik Saunders of VP Components, one of MBOSC’s event sponsors. Erik was in the midst of organizing an enduro race in Los Olivos, and he explained his vision of bringing a whole series of enduro races to California to help grow the sport. Meanwhile, Evan – who shared this vision – was helping to build a bike park at China Peak Mountain Resort and had plans to create an enduro event there.
Megan and I were inspired to jump in, and with MBOSC’s initial support, the California Enduro Series was founded. We kicked off in 2013 with a loose schedule of four events: the VP EnduroFest in Los Olivos, the China Peak Enduro in Lakeshore, the Riverside Enduro (put on by Eric Carter and Robert Herber) and of course, the Santa Cruz Super Enduro at Demo.
It was an exciting but rocky start. It was clear that we needed to define guidelines for CES events. We needed to better tie the events together into a series, and we needed to figure out how to ensure accurate timing and results. Bringing everything together was the focus after that first season.
As we gained steam, more and more local mountain biking clubs and race organizers wanted to partner with us to host an event in their area. CES’ main role is to help independent organizers to be successful, and of course, marketing them as part of the series line-up. This way, CES meets its mission of growing the sport of enduro, and the local communities benefit from the funds raised from the event.
AS YOU TOUCHED ON, ENDURO RACE TIMING CAN BE QUITE THE CHALLENGE. TELL US ABOUT YOUR TIMING SYSTEM AND HOW YOU CREATED YOUR OWN SOLUTION.
During the first year of CES, each hosting organizer had their own timing solution and all had problems with results, which would not work to grow the race format and a series. So, we subcontracted Bike Monkey to time CES races for a few years. While that worked out really well, it ultimately ended up being too cost prohibitive.
In 2015, we looked at modeling our timing system on that of the Enduro World Series (EWS). They were using a chip timing system from a German company, SportIdent, which looked promising. SportIdent provided the hardware, but they didn’t offer effective software for enduro timing. Being a software engineer, I decided to write my own timing software for the timing.
AS YOU ENTER CES’ 10TH SEASON, WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT STARTING THE SERIES?
The best thing about founding CES is that we get to be part of an amazing community that draws people from all over California. The race organizers, the volunteers, the racers and all of their families … it’s a warm, welcoming, and friendly tribe. Megan and I – along with the rest of the CES crew – really look forward to seeing everyone each summer when the racing starts. We’ve watched young racers grow into adults over the past ten years. We’ve seen riders grow from racing their first event to racing National Championships and the Enduro World Series (EWS).
Speaking of which, in 2016 we reached out to Chris Ball at EWS – on Curtis Keene’s suggestion – about bringing an EWS event to Northstar. It took three years of collaborating with Eric Whitaker at Northstar to add this California stop on the EWS schedule. Seeing it come to fruition in 2019 … well, that was a seriously high moment for us. Deeply gratifying.
Another thing we’re especially proud of is that, as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, we’ve been able to hold some fundraisers to benefit the communities our races take place in. Long-time sponsors Specialized and FOX donate bikes and suspension products respectively for us to raffle off each year.
YOU AND MEGAN RUN THE SERIES WHILE JUGGLING FULL-TIME CAREERS AND RAISING A CHILD. HOW DO YOU BALANCE IT ALL?
Megan and I got married the same year we founded CES, in 2012. So, we’ve always had it in our life together … it’s kind of like our first child.
The thing is, we don’t see CES as work. It’s a labor of love … a project Megan and I get to grow with together. In the beginning, it did require more time, but we’ve found a symbiotic balance with the race organizers and each other. I get to geek out on some of the things, like the software. Megan loves working with our sponsors to create fun experiences for the racers like speed traps, and stage win challenges. The division of labor makes it doable.
Plus, well, let’s face it: CES events are incredible weekends on bikes with the best trails laid out and marked, camping, food and beer, wonderful people, great times and memories. Now we have a 5-year-old son, and we love that he gets to grow up in this healthy, family-friendly environment and travel to different places. It really doesn’t get better than this.