Sand Wrestling Q&A with Rob Teet, Administrator for The Wrestling Insider
Rob Teet is our newest administrator to our closed group, The Wrestling Insider, as an expert on the international style of sand wrestling. Rob joins an impressive team of administrators which include; Noel Thompson, Mark Palmer, Fred Feeney, Michael Porcelli, Jeff and Gene Zannetti, Mike Maloney, Jeremiah and Trisha Butteris, Rick Ericksen, Keith Richards, James Duda, Veronica Francis and now Rob Teet. We sat down with Rob to ask several questions about this newer style of outdoor wrestling.
Q.) What are the basics of sand wresting? How does this style differ from other styles of wrestling?
A.) Sand wrestling is considered by many to be the oldest version of our sport. Initially when introduced as an official international style by FILA (the international wrestling federation), they were attempting to recreate the earliest known rules for competitive wrestling. In fact, the rules of sand wrestling were strikingly similar to the rules of the wrestling contests in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
For the most part, the rules are simple. The first wrestler to score two points wins the match. A wrestler can score a point if their opponent goes out-of-bounds. Another way to score a point depends on the rules. The way FILA and half of the world interpreted the rules was to force a body part of your opponent to touch the sand, much like sumo wrestling. The other half, including the United States, interpreted the rules to mean that a takedown will score a point. Regardless of the rules, once a point has been earned both wrestlers return to the starting position before the action resumes. A pin occurs whenever an opponent’s back touches the sand, although it used to be required that the shoulders touch the sand. Some tournaments still use the shoulder requirement, but that is becoming less common.
There are still tournaments that use the shoulder requirement for pins, but it doesn’t really follow the flow of a sand wrestling match. That is one way on how sand wrestling differs from other styles. Before the use of wrestling mats approximately 110 years ago, the hips were also pinning points in addition to the shoulders. This style is usually contested outdoors so wrestlers have to also compete against Mother Nature. Sometimes it is raining, sometimes it’s chilly, and sometimes it is so hot that a minute of wrestling in the sand will feel like a full six minute match on the mat. The shifting of the sand can really challenge a wrestler’s balance, dramatically increasing the difficulty of standing wrestling.
Q.) Is there a sanctioning body that oversees sand wrestling?
A.) FILA introduced, or perhaps re-introduced this style to the world in 2004 and sanctions sand wrestling as an annual World Championships just like they do for the other official international styles. All FILA affiliates can oversee sand wrestling in their respective country. USA Wrestling has been on board from the beginning, holding qualifying tournaments for the U.S. Team. I was living in an area where the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) dominated wrestling events, and was told that the AAU didn’t recognize sand wrestling when I inquired about hosting tournaments back in 2007, but I was asked to write a proposal so the AAU can begin to recognize this style and now they do. A handful of NUWAY state affiliates also host sand wrestling contests, although it is not widespread throughout all of the NUWAY state associations, at least not yet.
Q.) How many events are there approximately in the Midwest each year? In the USA?
A.) The number of events throughout the USA is continually growing, so it’s unfair to give a toss out a number but there has been at least a few dozen during the past year. I have had a lot of inquiries from associations, clubs, and individuals in nearly every state during the past few years and wouldn’t be surprised to see that number easily triple during the next few years. It seems like there may be a few dozen sand wrestling competitions in the Midwest region next summer, with Michigan, Indiana, and Nebraska already offering multiple sand wrestling events during the summer.
Q.) Is there a State Championship or National Championship to determine the best?
A.) USA Wrestling has had a National Championship every year since 2005. AAU had a National Championship in 2011, and I’m sure they would back another championship if one of their member clubs wanted to host an AAU Championship. Several states have a State Championship, with Oregon being the longest consecutive running State Championship. Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have had multiple State Championships. Virginia Beach has been the home of the North American Championships, which are hosted alongside the North American Sand Soccer Championships. That event is huge, attracting around 100,000 people to Virginia Beach’s oceanfront each day of the three day weekend. I would like to see New York and Florida organize a State Championship; both have been the home to previous National Championships and there is more than enough interested wrestlers to support a New York and Florida State Championships.
Q.) Are there weight classes in sand wrestling?
A.) Internationally, yes. Before 2011 there were only two weight classes for men and women in all age groups; a lightweight and heavyweight division. In 2011, FILA decided that there were enough athletes interested in sand wrestling that they increased the number of weight classes. In the adult division, there are four weights for men and three for women. Currently, the weight classes for men are (in pounds) 154, 176, 198, and an unlimited heavyweight division. For women, they are 132, 154, and an unlimited heavyweight division. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more weights added, since more countries have begun to send their wrestlers to the FILA Worlds.
For more localized contests, predetermined weight classes aren’t necessary. The weight difference isn’t as important as it is in mat wrestling, where the weight can greatly affect ground wrestling. Standing wrestling is more about balance. However, I would recommend that predetermined weight classes be used for team dual competitions.
Q.) Are sand wrestling events always on the beach?
A.) No, but that was the main connotation when this style was first introduced as ‘beach wrestling’. The beach is a great location, but sand wrestling events have been also held at local parks and school that have a sand volleyball pit, as well as bars and restaurants that have a sand volleyball field. On a few occasions, there have been indoor sand wrestling tournaments held in indoor sand volleyball facilities, but I’m not a fan of moving this style indoors. Competing with the elements is a part of the sport just like other outdoor sports.
Q.) How is the competition area established? Is it a circle like the Olympic styles?
A.) The sand should be level and without rocks and other debris. The action takes place with a circle with a diameter of 20 feet. Periodically, someone is designated the role of ‘the raker’ who uses a rake to level out the sand. On very hot days, water is used to cool the sand down.
Q.) Is there a sand wrestling season? I would imagine it would be difficult to sand wrestle in the Midwest from November to April.
A.) Yeah, it would be difficult for snowy areas to host sand wrestling contests during the winter, so sand wrestling is out of the question from November to April. In warmer areas, such as the southern United States, sand wrestling could happen all year long. New Mexico and southern California has had sand wrestling events in February. There has been a lot of interest in Texas and Hawaii, two states that could certainly host sand wrestling year-round. Lutte Canada has been hesitant to support this style, and I think the weather could be a factor, but over the past few years sand wrestling has started to gain supporters and hold competitions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Canada begin to send wrestlers to the FILA Worlds within the next few years. If Canada is hosting sand wrestling competitions, then I don’t see any reason for any state association to back this style. Alaska might have an extremely short sand wrestling season, but it would be great for Alaskan wrestlers if they do.
Q.) How does sand wrestling benefit wrestlers who compete in other styles? How about clubs?
A.) Sand wrestling gives wrestlers another option of competing all year long. It also allows athletes to dramatically improve their standing wrestling game, with the added difficulty of the shifting sand. Wrestlers who practice their shots in the sand can develop the power and speed to their shots in ways that are biomechanically impossible to achieve by practicing on the mat alone. The resistance cause by the sand encourages wrestlers to improve their tie-up skills and also control the wrestling action to avoid going out-of-bounds, which easily converts well for improving a wrestler’s control of the mat in the Olympic styles.
For clubs, an obvious benefit is allowing their wrestlers more wrestling opportunities. It can also be a great tool for promoting wrestling in their area, since the sport can be seen by more people than when wrestling is held indoors with an audience of mostly friends and family members of competing wrestlers. More and more clubs are using sand wrestling as a way to raise funds for their club, increasing their resources to send their wrestlers to major competitions in the mat styles.
But what I really love about this style is the ability for the entire sport of wrestling to grow. It is easy to understand for the most of the general population; the same can’t be said of the mat styles. With the ability to attract more viewers not only means the potential for more wrestlers, but the ability to attract more sponsors. Many sand wrestling contests have attracted non-wrestling entrants, such as MMA fighters, Judo competitors and other combative athletes. Those athletes have encourage sand wrestlers to incorporate different strategies than mat wrestling, such as the surfboard stance that is common in MMA or L-stance in traditional martial arts, which is sometimes referred to as the “push-out” stance in the sand wrestling circuit. Heck, I’ve witnessed athletes with no combative background give sand wrestling a try and many of them go on to also try the mat styles afterwards.
The only drawback that I’m not a fan of is that the world using two different set of rules for sand wrestling. I would like the ‘takedown’ version to be the standard since all other styles of international wrestling use takedowns instead of forcing a body part to the sand like sumo. Sand wrestling can be utilized as a great introductory style for athletes and spectators, but that transition can be compromised by non using takedowns worldwide. FILA has recently announced that they are hoping to fix this style in hopes of getting it into the Olympic wrestling program, and using takedowns will help alleviate many of the problems that they are trying to overcome.
Q.) What would it take for True Wrestling Insider to sponsor a sand wrestling event? Money, personnel, officials, etc.
A.) Outdoor wrestling is a great way to attract sponsors, since those sponsors can be recognized for contributing to wrestling to more people than just fans, friends and family members of wrestlers. This is especially true when a sand wrestling contests is being held alongside another athletic competition. The needs of clubs differ, so it’s tough to answer on what it would take an interested business to sponsor an event. There are equipment costs, for sure, and the cost of renting the location, insurance, and awards for the top wrestlers.
Q.) Can you tell us some of the names of the best sand wrestlers competing now?
A.) The first name that pops in to my mind is Jeff Funicello. He is a two-time World bronze medalist who has been on every U.S. team since 2007. Carlos Dolmo is another two-time World bronze medalist although to the best of my knowledge he hasn’t competed for a few years. Brothers Mike and Joe Morone have been standouts and deeply involved, with Mike having the most All-American honors at the USA Wrestling Nationals and Joe winning two AAU National Championships during the 2011 contest. Donovan Depatto was the first wrestler in the western hemisphere to win a medal other than bronze, beating me in the silver medal match in 2011. Ike Okoli is the most recent medal winner, although he had a controversial loss that knocked him out of the gold medal match. Scott Wendel is another standout American sand wrestler who has been a part of the past few U.S. Teams that has traveled around the world competing in this style at major international events for a handful of years. The women athletes are starting to line-up for the women’s team too, but a standout American women athlete is still in the works. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first gold medal awarded to one of our female wrestlers.
As far as other countries go, just look at their potential pool of Olympic caliber athletes. Most countries send wrestlers to the FILA Worlds that are also in serious contention of making their Olympic Freestyle or Greco-Roman teams. Give it time and I’m sure that some of our Olympic caliber wrestlers will give it a shot at the sand wrestling version of the World Championships.
Q.) Do you need to get special permission or a permit to hold an event on a beach in a city like Chicago?
A.) Regardless of the city, and if it’s a beach or the local park, I would suggest that clubs that are interested in hosting a sand wrestling contest inquire the local ‘Parks and Recreation’ department. They are usually the ones that are in charge. Each Parks and Recreation department are unique, some may charge a rental fee while others may waive any fees and embrace another event for their city. Many of the departments require insurance the same way a facility would for an indoor mat wrestling event, but some have been known to allow the competition to be covered by their own insurance.
Q.) Is there a way our fans can follow sand wrestling and get more information?
A.) In late 2011, Dwight Ashby and I developed the website SandWrestling.com. We try to get as much up-to-date information as possible on the site. The website hasn’t generated revenue as of yet, and that hasn’t been the top priority of the site. It is just to help convey information to those who are looking for it. If the site ever does generate money, any and all money will go toward helping other clubs organize future sand wrestling events.
Of course, the FILA and USA Wrestling websites can also provide a great amount of information. If a club is interested in hosting a sand wrestling contests for the first time, I would recommend picking up the paperback book, “Hosting Beach Wrestling Events”. I’m near the final stages of a “how to” type of book for this style too, so they can keep their eyes peeled for that, hopefully by next summer. All that’s left is pictures for that book, and if anyone is interested in modeling for it please let me know.
Q.) What is your knowledge of sand wrestling? Have any organizations asked for your help?
A.) Perhaps it may be that I’m also a fan of ‘entertainment wrestling’, but I believe there is a huge entertainment side to sand wrestling that is still untapped since my first involvement in 2007. Other then the benefits to athletes, clubs, and the sport as a whole, the entertainment value to the general public is a driving factor that has me hooked on this style. During my first few years of getting involved with sand wrestling, I did everything I could to learn about the sport. What techniques were other athletes using? How were tournaments being held and where were they at? A lot of clubs were doing a lot of different things, and all of those ideas helped shape the sport as it is today. The fun part is that I still feel like I’m learning.
During the past few years, organizations have pointed clubs that are interested in hosting a sand wrestling contest to me, and I try my best to help answer questions and give suggestions. I have no intention of trying to tell a club how they should host a contest, but I will try to help prevent clubs from making the same mistakes that other clubs have learned from. One example is a sand wrestling contest decided they would be innovative by giving bonus points to a wrestler if they can shove their opponent’s face in the sand. While that’s pretty creative, they couldn’t understand why the turnout of their events kept getting smaller and smaller. I love this sport, and I don’t want a wrestler deliberately attempting to shove my face in the sand; not any more than it occurs within the natural flow of a match.
I’m not a fan of competitions trying to alter the rules to better suit athletes that are dedicated to any of the mat styles, in some effort to “fix” the short length of many matches. If a sand wrestling event is kept simple, it encourages more people to give it a try but if the rules are altered to benefit wrestlers from other styles then it discourages new athletes into the total realm of competitive wrestling. There is nothing wrong with the sport the way it is. Trying to alter the rules is like trying to force the rules of freestyle wrestling into the scholastic version or vice-versa. At the heart of it all, these styles in themselves are actually separate sports.
I have been asked for help by several state associations that are affiliates of the main three U.S. organizations, and can only hope that I’ve been helpful. I do try to correspond with USA Wrestling, AAU and FILA whenever I can, trying to offer helpful suggestions while also maintaining an open mind to try and stay on top of things in terms of the development of sand wrestling.
Q.) Are you involved in any way of growing sand wrestling events, participation, or adding to any sanctioning organizations?
A.) Other than the SandWrestling.com website and its affiliated social media pages, I have organized sand wrestling clubs in Michigan and Virginia, and I’m more than willing to help a club with a sand wrestling clinic. I’ve already worked with the main wrestling organizations, but now I’m starting to target the high school athletic associations to consider adding sand wrestling as an official spring sport at the high school level. My hope is that within the next five years, all high school associations will have had a proposal in place. Whether or not each high school association will adapt sand wrestling as a scholastic sport will largely depend on how much interest there is among student-athletes. I would recommend that those students who are interested in sand wrestling to share their enthusiasm with their athletic director, who can bring it to the state association’s attention on their students behalf.
Q.) If you could choose the location of the next FILA Sand Wrestling World Championships, where would you choose?
A.) FILA has done a great job promoting this style in the eastern hemisphere. Even countries that do not participate in the FILA Worlds does incorporate sand wrestling into regional championships, such as the ‘Asian Games’ and the ‘Down Under Games’. It’s about time that they choose a site here in the west. I would obviously love to see a future FILA Worlds here in the U.S., but the sport has experienced incredible growth in South America recently. Brazil is one of those countries that have been on board since the beginning, so that is where I personally think would be a great location. One of the main setbacks for growth on the international scene in the western hemisphere is the cost to travel to the other side of the world, especially since those wrestlers could be eliminated in a few matches that lasted only a minute each. If we can cut the travel expenses a bit for the athletes in the west, I’m confident that more countries will jump on board.
Q.) Is there anything else about sand wrestling that our fans should know about? Anything that I haven’t asked you?
A.) This sport, like all other sports, is about having fun. It may be easier to convince your friends and family to watch you wrestle outdoors and enjoy the weather than trying to talk them into going to a wrestling contest indoors. There can be so many other things that you do alongside the wrestling, such as going for a swim, playing with a Frisbee or horseshoes, or enjoying a picnic. While there are a ton of benefits to develop the skills of wrestlers, getting a local wrestling club to grow and promote wrestling to the public, it’s the fun factor that sits atop the list of the true benefits of sand wrestling. Shoot, I competed in a tournament in Michigan last month and we also had a birthday party planned for one of my girlfriend’s kids. It was a blast, and the first time that most people with the birthday party had ever seen competitive wrestling. For them, hanging out at the wrestling contests was more than just the wrestling. Those same people would probably not be caught in a gym when it’s only about wrestling with nothing else for them to do.
Please follow our public fan page at www.facebook.com/truewrestlinginsider for information on some sand wrestling contests we plan on hosting next summer 2015. This will be a great opportunity to advertise with a banner in the sand. We will be soliciting sponsors and advertisers. Let me know if you’re interested.