Inside the Atlantic Coast Classic

Inside the Atlantic Coast Classic
/ May 16, 2022
Rob Miller

Having outgrown its roots as a local backyard throwdown, the Bacon Beatdown was rebranded as the Atlantic Coast Classic, reflecting the massive growth to a 1,900 athlete CrossFit competition hosted in Daytona Beach, FL. Will Bald, who took over the event in 2019, navigated the competition through two years of pandemics, and has catapulted the ACC to one of the largest competitions in the country. But despite the growth, he's kept the event's ethos the same.

The ACC is scheduled for June 3-5, 2022 at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. I sat down with Will to learn why the event has grown, what it takes to run a large competition, and why CrossFitters love to compete.

First things first. Most people in Florida know this competition as the Bacon Beatdown. Tell us why you rebranded the event.

When you have an event with a lot of brand equity, there's obviously a risk in changing the name. But this isn’t a backyard throwdown anymore. The event has grown from a local comp in Florida, that pulled mostly from Orlando, Jacksonville, and Miami and is now a really big competition with national reach.

This year we have athletes from 30 states, 22 athletes from Puerto Rico, and others coming from South America. We’ve grown from 737 participants in 2019 and are expecting nearly 1,900 this year. I mean, there are only a handful on the planet that are that big on a regular basis. Athletes’ expectations for the event has grown along with the size of the event. When it comes to the vendors that we have, the equipment we use, the event experience, the expectations are very high. The Atlantic Coast Classic is a much more representative name of our bigger, more professionally run event experience.

Why do CrossFitters like to compete?

Competition is the factor that drives people to stay with and continue in CrossFit. You'll get results doing other group fitness. But if you are a CrossFitter and this is what you do, a lot of it is because you found somebody that you can chase, or you can find somebody you can run away from. The reason people compete is because it's the ultimate test.

When most people start, there is usually a fitness related goal. Then at some point you get there and this is when people leave their regular gym because you were out of shape and now you wanted to look better and now you look better. In CrossFit, once you've achieved that first goal, that's where competition comes in. You see people go to a competition as a beginner, intermediate or don't even compete. They just walk in that room. And they're like, oh, I want to get out there. Once they do, it's just so much fun and there's so much juice.

Or they compete and say, well, I thought I was good at this, but I'm actually not that good at that. If I hadn't tripped on my double under six times, I would've beaten these six guys and I would have finished fifth instead of ninth. So I'm going to go back and I'm going to work. For many athletes, the competition gives them the next reason to go hard at the gym.

How did you get into CrossFit and running competitions?

I started doing CrossFit in 2013 or 2014 at CrossFit Pinnacle in Ocala. I started helping them on the business side of things. One of my best friends, Tyler Krysalka purchased CrossFit Pinnacle and I started helping him run competitions. I participated in every Bacon Beatdown, so I was very familiar with the event. I found out in 2018 that the prior owner was moving on from Bacon, so I purchased the competition.

What did you learn about running small competitions?

A lot of the principles for the big event are true at a smaller scale. You have to provide great customer service. The behind the scenes work of event planning such as heat schedules, etc. is the same. And then after all the planning, you have to turn a team of volunteers, most of whom you probably haven't met before, into an efficient group of people that can run a complicated process all day long and stay on schedule.

What’s easier about running large events?

For more mature events, not necessarily larger events, marketing is easier because its been around and has a good name. We've built up a solid following of people that do our events every year.

But it took hustle to get there. The original guy who started the Bacon Beatdown went from gym to gym in Florida driving with a barbecue pit behind his truck. He would show up at a CrossFit gym at a 4, 4:30, or 5 o'clock, peak CrossFit time. And he would sit in the parking lot and cook up five pounds of bacon and just give it to everybody and hand out t-shirts. And that was his main marketing tool. Which worked.

The other thing that’s easier is the freedom and flexibility with programming the workouts. We have a lot of space. When you’re in the confines of a box, there’s only so much wall space and rig lanes. Working from both sides of a 20 lane rig, we’re able to do so much more.

Why has the ACC grown so fast?

For us, I think COVID, despite all of its hardship and difficulty, really gave us a pretty unique spotlight. In 2020, we were the only indoor CrossFit event in the country. Wodapalooza was canceled that year, and people that only ever go to Wodapalooza came and loved the event. Guys came down from Training Think Tank. The athletes came because they wanted to compete and had nowhere else to go. So we received massive national reach.

Also, we changed the division structure. Previously, the event had intermediate and RX divisions. The jump from the Intermediate to RX was massive. For example, you had to jump from 155lb cleans and 115lb snatches to 225lb cleans and 185lb snatches. The RX division was really an elite division and there was room for a division between the two. So now, we have intermediate, RX, and Elite divisions, in addition to the beginner division.

Where do you see the ACC in five years?

I'd like to maintain the ethos of the competition and who the competition is for. This event is for beginners, intermediate, RX and local elites. I want them to have the regionals feel, that big coliseum arena, and when they walk in, it’s huge and loud. And that's really who it's for. I don’t want the event to be the side show for the one heat of elites that everybody's there to watch.

Last year you started another CrossFit competition, The Vanguard, which will be held every fall in Lakeland, FL. Why did you start The Vanguard competition?

One main reason for The Vanguard was to run a true team event. ACC participants have asked for teams of two and teams of four, as well as co-ed teams of varying sizes.

At the ACC, the team aspect is different. You can hide on a team. If you can't do a pull-up, you can still go on an intermediate team. As long as you have teammates that can do pull-ups because you know that I'm not going to do a workout that requires every partner to do a pull-up. I don't actually particularly like the idea of one person on a team just hammering it and then they just rotate like that.

At the Vanguard, I can program teamwork and syncro elements. If you look back at the program last year, the amount of true teamwork was vastly, vastly higher than it ever been at ACC.

What's the most annoying athlete behavior at a competition?

Will: Yelling at the judges, for sure. Yelling at my staff, the people that are mean to people that are there for free drive me nuts. These people aren't paid to be there. They are volunteers.

How do you hold judges accountable for the standards?

First, we recruit good judges. All judges want to do a good job. Nobody's going out there to do a bad job. And we give them the tools and support so they can be successful.

Preparation is number one. You can't judge when you're trying to figure out what you're doing. The judges belong to a Facebook group that has all the workouts and standards. And then during the event, we have two head judges on each stage. If they find a judge who is not doing something correctly, they can pull them off, replace them with someone else, give them some additional training on it and then get them back in there. Having somebody there that can help them is really the key.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Oh, that's an easy question. The most rewarding part of the job is when I'm on site, especially as Sunday winds down. The number of people that come up and say, “Hey, this was really awesome. This was my first competition. Now I can't wait to go back to the gym and work.”

Also, we set up the equipment and rig on Wednesday and Thursday and then once it's done, it's pretty epic in there. On Thursday evening, athletes start arriving and they just kind of walk in and I can see the holy shit on their face. That part is pretty cool.