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Todd Jackson: Always Adjusting for the Breeze

Big Blue race director got his start hosting windsurf races

Jackson addresses participants at the Burton Creek Trail Run. Photos courtesy of Big Blue Adventures.

Todd Jackson has put on more than a hundred triathlons and 60 races, but has never run one himself.

“There’s a pretty big line between event production and being an athlete,” says Jackson, 48, who has been producing races for his own company, Big Blue Adventure, for 10 years and as a sports marketing professional for 20 years.

He got his start as an event producer organizing windsurfing races back in the mid- ‘80s for Windsurfing Berkeley while going to school at Cal.

Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jackson grew up on a lake and got into competitive sailing before coming to the Bay. Windsurfing was in its boom years then and Berkeley was one of its epicenters, so it was natural for him to be pulled in

by the hot new water sport. (Then it was stand-up sailboarding; today it’s stand-up paddleboarding. See any similarities?)

In 1984, Jackson and friend Chaco Mohler made some headlines when they windsurfed from San Francisco’s Baker Beach just outside the Golden Gate to Sacramento with their gear strapped to the front of their boards. Sailing upstream it took them three days and two nights, camping wherever they landed.

“We sailed into Rio Vista,” Jackson recalls, “walked right into town in our wetsuits and ordered two large pizzas. It was the best pizza I ever had.”

Jackson helped stage the Wednesday night races off the Berkeley Marina, as well as bigger races like the Berkeley Enduro, a 17-mile race, and the Bay Challenge, from Berkeley out past the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

He graduated from Cal in 1987 having majored in Development Studies, which focuses on the hurdles third-world countries face. Apparently, that’s good training for

becoming a race director and developing events as well.

“I had a couple real jobs in the interim,” including high-tech sales, he notes, “but always went back to sports marketing.”

As the wind began to die down on windsurfing, Jackson also began promoting inline-skating events. “In 1991, we had 500 people in a roller hockey tournament at Sea Otter,” he recalls, referring to the huge cycling festival held in Monterey each April.

Indeed, Jackson has been at the leading edge of “trend-sport marketing” — sports whose heydays have come and gone — for decades.

“Hopefully you can be at the front of the trend,” he says. “You don’t want to be at the end of it.”

That’s one reason he’s considering adding a stand-up paddleboard division to his adventure races — to provide an alternative to the kayaking leg of races and rope in some of the excitement that stand-up paddling is generating. Hopefully that might provide a booster shot to the somewhat sagging interest in adventure racing.

What’s the biggest headache in being an event director? It’s a common lament.

“You get to a point that you get bogged down with the administrative aspects,” says Jackson. “I’d much rather spend more time on creative aspects. After 10 years, I’ve finally turned the corner where I’ve got someone to help (on the administrative side).”

Prior to starting Big Blue, Jackson was

hired by Team Unlimited to be the XTERRA Tour manager for the off-road triathlon series that started in 1996. (BTW: That was four years before Nissan released the SUV named after the race series. The affiliation ended in 2006.) For several years he traveled to all 13 XTERRA race venues in North America.

One of those was Lake Tahoe, where the XTERRA USA Championship race was held for many years at Incline Village. Although the national championship has moved to Snowbasin, UT, XTERRA Lake Tahoe (Aug. 27) is still considered to be the best course in the series. (Big Blue also hosts the XTERRA Tahoe City race in late June.)

In 2001 and 2002, Jackson rented a house in Tahoe in preparation for the race and “fell in love with living in Tahoe. And I realized that there was so much opportunity here. It’s such an amazing destination it’s hard not to look at it as a blank canvas for creating fun and challenging courses and events.”

Adventure racing was the burgeoning new sport, so Jackson started Big Blue Adventure and held his first race in 2002, the Tahoe Big Blue Adventure Race.

Big Blue would expand over the years to include adventure races in Half Moon Bay and on Folsom Lake, as well as off-road triathlons, road triathlons, trail runs, winter adventure races and, new this year, endurance mountain bike racing and open-water swimming. Big Blue now produces more than 40 multi-sport events annually. For a complete list and info, check out bigblueadventure.com.

“I’m really happy and proud at what Big Blue Adventure has become,” says Jackson. “I’d like to eventually have a Big Blue adventure race in Baja or Maui. Anywhere there’s land and water.”

An event producer who’s busy nearly every weekend for half the year, has got to have his own outlets. When not chasing his three-year old daughter Zoë or working on his house

in Kings Beach with his wife, Julie Barnett, Jackson still caters to his childhood love of sailing each week — and nourishes his own competitive bone — by racing Lasers (fast, single-handed boats) on Tahoe every Monday evening through summer.

“I almost never miss a race,” he says. “I’ll fly home if I have to just to get on the water.”

He’ll be racing in the Laser World Masters Championship in San Francisco in August. “Each year a different country hosts the event and I couldn’t miss it in my own backyard.”

Jackson also tries to escape for a mountain bike ride each week. But don’t expect him to be towing the line in lycra shorts for one of his races anytime soon.

After all, you never see symphony conductors pick up an instrument during a concert. Just imagine the chaos if they did

–Pete Gauvin

New for Big Blue

Triathlon, open water swim debut on West Shore

Even though he’s put on more than a hundred triathlons in his career for Big Blue Adventures and XTERRA, Todd Jackson was just recently certified as a USA-Triathlon race director.

Accordingly, he’s adding another intriguing road triathlon to Big Blue’s lineup this year to compliment the 30th annual Donner Lake Triathlon (July 17) he took over a couple years ago from longtime event producer A Change of Pace.

The inaugural Lake Tahoe Triathlon (Olympic and Sprint distances) will take place at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the West Shore on Sunday, Aug. 14. The bike leg around Emerald Bay will be among the most spectacular in the world.

And on Saturday, the day prior, the beautiful beach at Sugar Pine Point will be the launch point for the Lake Tahoe Open Water Swim (1/2-mile, 1-mile and 2-mile courses).

Also new this year will be Big Blue Lake Tahoe 4- and 8-Hour Mountain Bike Race on June 18, held on a 12-mile course in Burton Creek State Park next to Tahoe City. The race is open to solo riders and teams.

Another new event is the Run to Squaw, a paved 7.8 mile trail run along the Truckee River from Tahoe City to the Village at Squaw Valley, which takes place on Sunday, June 26, the day following XTERRA Tahoe City.

For details on these events and others, check out bigblueadventure.com. —PG