Publish date:

David Smith, Alternative Athlete May 11, 1970

Almost defiantly, he stared at us. We stared back, intrigued.
Sitting confidently in his beige fringed leather jacket, his
magenta pants and his python-skin boots, a sea breeze whipping
at his Sgt. Pepper locks, Super Hippie had somehow earned SI's
cover. His name--the amusingly pedestrian David Smith--was as
anonymous as his Peace Pentathlon. "I was a far-out choice for
the cover," Smith, now 60, concedes, "but I can't tell you how
many people told me, 'Hey, man, that's the first time I ever
read the magazine.'"

Smith's five-event solo adventure was designed to show that
sports could be challenging without being competitive. Over a
span of six hours in the U.S. Virgin Islands,
Smith--swashbucklingly clad in a tie-dyed tank top and buckskin
loincloth--skydived into Pillsbury Sound, swam five treacherous
miles from St. John to St. Thomas, scuba-dived through sea
caves, ran for 90 minutes over jungle roads and rode a trail
bike to the peak of St. Thomas's Mountaintop. Smith explained,
"They're five events that people do for fun, not for war."

Smith had competed--and excelled--in golf, skeet shooting and
swimming as a child in California but had come to abhor
organized sports. He found starter's pistols "violent" and
finish lines "uptight," and believed that people should take
part in athletics to better themselves, not to defeat others.
The Peace Pentathlon increased Smith's fame, and in October 1972
he put on the Everyman's Olympics: an Adventurer's Decathlon,
which included events ranging from the strenuous (running a
marathon in the Sahara Desert) to the Biblical (walking on
water--aided by Styrofoam boots--down the Bou Regreg River in
Morocco) to the bizarre (leading a two-hour yoga session for six
hungover Danish models in one of Marrakech's exotic gardens).
Smith became a regular on The Tonight Show, regaling Johnny
Carson with tales of kayaking from Khartoum to Cairo in '77 and
running a marathon through the Khyber Pass in '79. Says Smith of
his years traveling the globe, "I wouldn't have traded my life
for anybody's."

Since returning to college and earning his Ph.D. in health and
human services from Columbia Pacific University in 1987, Smith
has drawn on his experiences to write books (three) and give
speeches (currently 40 a year) on risk-taking and teamwork. He
also gives monthly talks to soon-to-be-released inmates on
adjusting to life after prison. At home in Santa Cruz, Calif.,
Smith, who is divorced, communes with son Daren, 23, and
daughter Chelsea, 19, or, when alone in his garden, ponders
future projects while tending his fuchsia, marigolds and the
occasional wildflower.

--Josh Elliott



Of his Peace Pentathlon, Smith said,"They're five events that
people do for fun, not for war."