La Jollan among first U.S. athletes to compete in Cuba for triathlon

Wetsuit company owner eager to compete in, tour Havana

A La Jolla man is among 25 U.S. athletes who will compete in Cuba for the first time during the Habana Camtri Triathlon, Jan. 24-25 in downtown Havana.

It took three months for the U.S. Treasury Department to clear the athletes for the trip, which was made possible by President Obama’s recent relaxing of travel regulations with Cuba. It will make the athletes the very first Americans to compete professionally on the island.

“My daughter said, ‘Oh, that’s like getting the golden ticket from Willy Wonka!’ ” said Turquand, 45, co-owner of San Diego-based Xterra Wetsuits.

Turquand’s group is part of the USA Triathlon organization, which extended the invitation to its 300,000 members on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The 25 spots were given out within minutes,” he said. “I knew they were going to do it, and as soon as I got the e-mail I immediately signed up.”

Turquand is also gearing up for a Half Ironman in Oceanside March 28. In Havana, he will compete in a sprint, the shortest of the Ironman events, which includes a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and a 5-kilometer run.

“I’m doing the sprint because, honestly, I want to get done with the race and go sightsee,” he said. “I went and got a guidebook at Warwick’s that lists the top 10 (tourist) sites, the top 10 rum bars and the top 10 Cuban cigar bars. My goal is try and hit the top two on each of the lists.”

Turquand, who visited Vietnam two months ago, said he also plans to tour old Havana in one of the island’s copious 1950s American cars, taking in the lush scenery and culture of the Communist country. Tens of thousands of vintage American cars remain scattered throughout Cuba, manufactured before the U.S. embargo. With no automobile imports coming into the country, the cars are well preserved by Cuban mechanics.

“It’s my way of stepping back in time,” Turquand said. “I’m interested in seeing Cuba before America’s influence (takes hold) — hopefully in a positive way.”