Knowing Nite Moves
Inside Jake Clinton's 20-Year-Old Weekly Summer Running/Swimming Series
Twenty years after it began as a biweekly five-kilometer run along the Leadbetter Beach-Shoreline Park waterfront, Nite Moves has become an iconic Santa Barbara event: a three-ring fitness circus (ocean swim, run, and post-race party) held before sunset-while colorful sailboats race offshore-every Wednesday from May to September.
“There’s so much history here,” said Dawn Schroeder, a long-time participant. She can relate Nite Moves to the memorable summer evening of June 27, 1990. Schroeder went out the door of her family’s home on San Antonio Creek Road for the weekly race. In the time it took her to run around the park, the Painted Cave Fire erupted and burned her house and hundreds of others to the ground. “My running top and shorts were all the clothes I had to my name,” Schroeder said. “It all came back to me when we had the [Jesusita Fire] during the start of Nite Moves this year.”
Jamie Allison, who cofounded the Moms in Motion training clan with Schroeder, remembers stopping during the run in 1990 because wind-blown ashes “the size of silver dollars” were raining down. Her parents’ home also was destroyed.
If anything, Nite Moves has thrived throughout the years because it brings relief from the tribulations of everyday life. There is competition-serious athletes do both the swim and run as an “aquathon”-but you can just do it for fun, and it’s a social gathering, too. Last week almost 400 people ages 7-64 took part. “It’s a healthy place to meet other people,” Allison said. “Better than the bar scene.”
Brian and Leslie Roth can attest to that. He coaches swimming and water polo at San Marcos High. She coaches track and cross country at Dos Pueblos. “We met over a keg at Nite Moves three years ago,” Leslie said. “We were married last year.”
Presiding over Nite Moves like a four-star general is Jake Clinton. He claims to have been at a dining table at Puerto Vallarta in April 1989, with fellow Santa Barbara running enthusiasts Chris Holmberg and Eddie St. Clair, when the idea for a summer series of races was formulated. Their first production, dubbed Night Moves, took place May 31 of that year.
The others moved on, and Clinton became sole proprietor of Nite Moves in 1995. At the time, he was known as John Baron. He became John Clinton around 2000, and since then “Jake” has come to the fore. Baron was his father’s stage name, he explained, and he actually comes from the family of Clintons that goes back 10 generations in his home state of Connecticut. Clinton, now 59, said he has run some 70 marathons under his various names.
“He’s a man of mystery, what can you say?” said Steve Bonser, who knew Clinton as a fellow runner with the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers. Clinton’s tag with that rowdy bunch was Quarter Slut because he ran the erstwhile State Street Arcade. He also had a pizza parlor, Mr. C’s, in the Magnolia Center. Now his time is devoted almost exclusively to Nite Moves and two annual races, the Pier to Peak Half Marathon and Thanksgiving 4-Miler.
“This is my livelihood,” said Clinton. In his best year, he said, he cleared $55,000. “I give 11-12 percent of the gross to nonprofits.”
Everybody seemed to be having a good time at Nite Moves last week. The party was inside a semicircle of tents housing sponsors and vendors at the Leadbetter Beach picnic area. Taco snacks were provided to the competitors. A quintet was playing straight-ahead jazz. Clinton rounded up a bunch of kids for a sprint around some flags on the sand. There was beer for the adults in limited amounts. At least the drinkers were no longer segregated in a “beer jail,” as it was called in previous years, when the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control had given Clinton a hard time. He has a history of clashing with various agencies over permits, fees, and regulations.
Nite Moves is not exactly a cheap date. A season adult pass costs $225, and a single-event fee is $25 the first time, $20 thereafter.
“It’s not too big a price to pay,” Schroeder said. “It’s for your health.”
NEXT WEEK: Reef and Run, a new weekly swim/run duathlon event, has been inaugurated on Tuesday evenings at East Beach. It is a Nite Moves imitation in many ways, but Jake Clinton does not feel flattered.