Pensacola Beach Brawl: Powered by Local Love and An Overweight Technician Turned Affiliate Owner
The producer of Beach Brawl, a bi-annual CrossFit competition on the beautiful white sands of Pensacola, Brian Brand, came into running the festival in a rather unlikely way. With 1,300 athletes across multiple divisions duking it out for cash prizes under the sun, about 20 vendors and a number of other moving parts, running a successful competition of this magnitude, or any one at that, is worthy of a podium recognition in its own right.
Shortly before becoming an affiliate owner in 2018, Brand and his wife, Amanda, were leading a rather unhealthy lifestyle. It was ocean-side living that led to them finding functional fitness and eventually running the fittest party on the beach.
“We had moved to Florida, and we love going out to the beach, but walking out to the beach, our current physical condition was always a task. By the time we get out there, we’d be a sweaty mess just carrying some chairs in an umbrella, and it wouldn’t be enjoyable,” Brand said. “So my wife says, ‘well, we should start working out’. I said, ‘okay, we can do that’. And then she’s like, ‘we’re going to try CrossFit’. And I said, ‘no, I’ve seen that on TV and on the internet. We’re not doing that’. Crazy, right?
She goes, ‘no, we’re going. And actually we’re going right now’. And I’m like, what do you mean right now? (She said) ‘yeah, meet me at this address’. I had just left the drive-through. I mean, think about that: I’m a service technician. I’m sedentary and overweight. So we go and in the parking lot I’m like ‘there’s no way we’re going in there. There’s no way we’re doing this, right?’”
After working up the courage to venture inside the gym, Brand and his wife went through a brutal bodyweight workout and haven’t looked back.
“What has it done for me? It gave me my youth back. I’m 40-years-old next year, and I feel better now than I did when I was 25,” Brand said. “I’ll preach CrossFit methodology all day long. I’m a Level 2 (trainer), affiliate owner and head coach. Anybody that we come across, we take the opportunity to say, ‘hey, look, you can do this’.”
When most people fall in love with CrossFit, they spread the good word like gospel, but Brand took it a step further and decided to take over ownership of Beach Brawl when the opportunity presented itself last year.
“Running a competition is crazy, it’s a lot of fun — a lot of moving parts, a lot of chaos, a lot of control. My first competition being the 2021 Pensacola Beach Brawl… it was insanity,” Brand said.
From the outside, the comp runs like a well-oiled machine. Heat times are updated well in advance, event results are posted online quickly, photo packages are available for purchase, social media is updated within moments of finishes, and everything largely runs right on time. But the magic of executing all of this so well is far from an accident.
“It’s notes after notes after notes. Google Documents. I mean, we literally just try to line out every single aspect of this thing and keep it in its own little separate file and have every little piece of that handled,” Brand said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned, honestly, (is to) just calm down and make it happen…keep your eyes forward. Always look for what could happen versus what you think will happen. You don’t expect it, just like we always say in CrossFit. Obviously you can’t just pull up and knock this thing out like a workout, but at the same time, you have to always be looking to the next step, always be ten steps ahead of everybody else and always make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.”
If you’ve attended or participated in a competition of any scale, it’s no secret that there are countless people running around making it all come together. Volunteers are truly the unsung heroes of competitions and long weekend days judging, setting up, tearing down, photographing, checking-in and everything in between.
“Our volunteers come from everywhere. They come from their local affiliates, from all over the US. But the majority of them come from a few local boxes here. Having strong community relationships definitely makes it easier,” Brand said. “The people that are out here, I know every single person — I know them in some personal way. That’s 127 souls today that all have a first name relationship with them. That makes it easier, knowing you can trust those people, but putting those people in the head position is a difficult task. You have to be trusting, you have to have expectations, and you have to have somebody that’s willing to deliver at all costs, because there is no opportunity for failure and there is no room for mistakes. We don’t demand perfection, but you have to give it your best.”
One person that Brand has placed his trust in immensely is Carlos Bown, content creator and owner of Bown Media, who serves as the Beach Brawl media director. As a proud Pensacola resident, Bown first got involved a handful of years ago as a competitor, then a volunteer and member of the media team, before eventually running the operation made up of over a dozen photographers and videographers.
“Everybody that’s on the team right now, we’ve been working together for a while. We all know each other pretty well. So that’s one of the reasons why I hired this media team, is we know we work well together. I think we exactly know how to rotate between floors when it comes to shooting,” Bown said. “And also Brian, he’s supporting everybody, (and) everybody just supports each other a lot, which is something that you don’t see often. Walking around, we always get people telling us, ‘awesome work, you guys are doing awesome’, and this gives us more energy or motivation to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Being involved in such an intimate way isn’t lost on the creative, given that he calls the city home sweet home and his CrossFit coverage began at this event years prior.
“It blows my mind sometimes to think that now I’m running the team, because I remember the first time being here… I just thought ‘oh my God, what am I even doing here? It’s so out of my league’,” Bown said. “So it just holds a special place in my heart just to be here.”
As for next year, the team is already working together to keep improving upon each iteration of the competition.
“It’s hard work. You gotta love it. If you’re planning on running a competition, invest in people, invest in process. If you’re planning on attending a competition as an athlete or even as a volunteer, just expect to give it your all,” Brand said. “That’s one thing that we always try to talk to our volunteers about. Like, guys, this is hard. At the end of the day, you’re going to get a lot of appreciation from us, but it’s a hard job, you know what I mean? Talk to the people. Let everybody know what they should be expecting.”
And if you’re planning on running your own competition, Brand’s got some advice to share as well.
“Plan. Don’t start two months before or three months before. I work exclusively on this competition for about six or seven months ahead of time,” Brand said, before offering to share his wisdom with others. “I’m always open for conversation, ready to talk to people, ready to make new friends, if anybody needs help. I love meeting new people.”
To see the media in action, check out Beach Brawl on Instagram, and check out the results of the fall competition.