July 23, 2015
Whitecaps and Wheelbarrows
By Andréa Maria Cecil with Mike Warkentin and Hilary Achauer
Sandy and sandbags test individual athletes at the CrossFit Games.
Sandy and sandbags test individual athletes at the CrossFit Games.

Sandy and sandbags test individual athletes at the CrossFit Games.







The venue was the same. The fitness was not.

On the first day of their competition at this year’s CrossFit Games, individual competitors tackled an event that was almost identical to one their peers faced five years ago—with notable differences.

In 2010, the Sandbag Move event called for athletes to transport sandbags of varying weights from the stairs on one side of the tennis stadium at the then-Home Depot Center to the top of the stairs at the other side of the stadium.

At the time, Games commentators Bill Grundler and Justin Judkins joked it was the simplest of tasks.

“You see that stuff up there? Take it over there,” Judkins remarked with a laugh.

That year—the Games’ first in what is now the StubHub Center—women moved 370 lb. and men 600 lb. of sandbags. The wheelbarrows they used to transport their loads across the stadium floor were of the hardware-store variety, and they were assembled by the likes of Games host Rory McKernan, CrossFit Seminar Staff member Miranda Oldroyd and Games analyst Pat Sherwood. The time cap was 20 minutes.

Tommy Hackenbruck and Annie Thorisdottir recorded the winning times at 6:57 and 8:04, respectively. 

In 2015, Director of the Games Dave Castro modified the task. The sandbags now weighed a combined total of 480 lb. for the women and 720 lb. for the men.

Equipment manufacturer Rogue Fitness made the wheelbarrows—250 lb. each—and the time cap was 15 minutes.

Lukas Högberg and Anna Tunnicliffe set the best times in 2015 with 10:07 and 8:30, respectively.

Rebecca Voigt, who tied for third in the 2010 event, finished Sandbag 2015 in 11:32 for 18th place in the event.

“It felt the same,” a smiling Voigt said afterward.

Still, she conceded the crowd might have grown since 2010.

“Once you get out there, you don’t notice. You just do work.”

Austin Malleolo also completed the event in 2010 but said Sandbag 2015 was more difficult.

"It was a lot different. I'm a little fitter, so I like to think the event was harder. The weight was heavier and the pace was faster."

He added: "You just have to go faster and it sucks.”

Malleolo’s buddy Spencer Hendel found himself in a similar situation.

Before the event, he dug up archived video of his 2010 performance to remember his strategy—which resulted in a sixth-place finish. But things didn’t go as planned in 2015.

"I learned I should try to drag two bags. But one wasn't working that well. The original plan was to take two at a time. The 100-lb. sandbag took no effort. The 80-lb. bag was so bad because of the uneven weight."

Hendel continued: "None of my plan worked. I got shit on. It wasn't what I wanted it to be."

Sandbag 2015, he said, was “one of the hardest workouts I've ever done." 

The continually shifting sand within the canvas bags wreaked havoc, Hendel said. 

“I failed (lifting) the 80-lb. bag three times."

Earlier that day, the 215-lb. athlete had a better-than-expected finish in Pier Paddle at Hermosa Beach Pier: ninth place.

“I thought that was never gonna end,” said a winded Hendel, who two days earlier had revealed that ocean swimming “freaks me out.”

But he had to “just get over it,” he said.

“I love when Dave (Castro) says, ‘When the shark wants you, it’s gonna take you. There’s nothing you can do about it,’” Hendel recounted with a smile.

Samantha Briggs, who did not cite sharks as a concern Wednesday morning, expected paddleboarding to eventually appear in the Games after Castro’s paddleboard hint at the start of the 2013 Games. At that point, she had already tried paddleboarding—but of the stand-up variety.

“We just didn’t think he would even do that type of paddleboarding in particular. I didn’t even know it was a sport,” she said, grinning.

Michele Letendre was one athlete who took paddleboarding lessons after Castro’s 2013 hint.

“I wanted to learn how to go fast,” she said.

Letendre added: “I’ve never done prone paddleboarding. It had never crossed my mind. … I don’t know how much (the lessons) transferred. I definitely got more comfortable with the board.”

Anna Tunnicliffe, on the other hand, gave a sheepish smile when asked if she paid any mind to Castro’s paddleboard hint.

Ben Smith also was guilty.

“No. I didn’t think twice about it.”

Smith added with a big smile: “You should learn and play new sports.”