The annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim // © 2011 Waikiki Roughwater Swim
Each December, TravelAge West contributor Dawna Robertson clears her calendar and travels from her home in San Diego to Oahu, where she takes part in the Honolulu Marathon.
"The race course is so packed with fun distractions that I tend to forget how many more miles there are to the finish line," said Robertson. "I love the excitement of the fireworks at the start, the Christmas lights at Honolulu Hale, the people cheering in Waikiki and those inspiring ocean views along the way."
Robertson is a great example of someone who has gotten hooked by an Oahu sporting event and keeps coming back for more. For participants and spectators alike, the island's Hawaiian culture, beautiful environment, great year-round weather and mix of city and country makes it a perfect place for distinctive yearly contests, according to Oahu Visitors Bureau senior sales and marketing director, Noelani Schilling-Wheeler.
"Annual athletic events attract visitors during softer periods and allow us to market to sports enthusiasts who like being active," she said. "Our range of annual contests reflects the diversity of the island."
Whether clients are in the stands or on the race course, annual events let them interact with the local population. Also working in Oahu's favor is its accessibility -- it is served by carriers both domestic and international -- and large number of visitor accommodations. And, it boasts a wide range of event venues such as Aloha Stadium, the Waipio Soccer Complex, Neal Blaisdell Center and the University of Hawaii.
With its unique blend of urban and rural settings, Oahu is what Schilling-Wheeler called "a full-service island destination," with plenty to offer visitors before and after a sporting event. As travel agents time client vacations with annual competitions, they should recommend other things to do around Oahu that would enhance the entire trip and create a repeat customer, she said.
The Oahu sports calendar begins with the mid-January Sony Open, bringing the world's best professional golfers to the Waialae Country Club. January is also the time for the NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium, showcasing the biggest names in the National Football League.
A February favorite, the Great Aloha Run, is a foot race, a little more than eight miles long, starting at Aloha Tower in Honolulu and ending at Aloha Stadium, with a sports, health and fitness expo spanning the three days surrounding the event. In March, the ladies prevail during the Straub/Kapiolani Women's 10K run, now in its 34th year.
A big draw in May, the Honolulu Triathlon lures athletes from around the world for a 1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K course that begins and ends at Ala Moana Park. Come August, Duke's OceanFest is a weeklong series of aquatic contests at Waikiki Beach honoring famed Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku.
For 42 years, visitors and locals alike have accepted the early September challenge of the two-plus-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, which starts at the New Otani Hotel and finishes at the Hilton Rainbow Tower. Another test, this time on two wheels, takes place at the end of September with the Honolulu Century Ride, Hawaii's oldest and largest cycling event.
Perpetuating one of Hawaii's most important and historic cultural traditions -- outrigger canoe paddling -- the Molokai Hoe in October draws more than 1,000 international athletes who cross the treacherous channel from Molokai to Waikiki, where spectators watch the thrilling finish.
Another hallowed Hawaii sport, surfing, takes center stage in November and December, when mammoth waves pound the North Shore. The Vans Triple Crown determines the year's international champions, while the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational draws thousands of onlookers who watch from the safety of the shore.
Basketball fever sweeps Oahu in December during the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic that packs Honolulu's Stan Sheriff Center. Meanwhile, football fans eagerly await each Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium, where teams from the Western Athletic Conference and Pac-10 go head to head.
As reliably as the sunrise and sunset, mid-December always brings the Honolulu Marathon, and Robertson has already sent in her entry for the 2011 race. The way she sees it, "the marathon is the perfect excuse for another trip to an island with something for everyone."