Traditional forms of wrestling have always been popular in the United States of America with the sport being participated in from school years right through to senior adult competition. In recent years though Beach Wrestling, with its dynamic and quick matches, easy to understand scoring system as well as the unique challenge provided by learning to balance on shifting sand, has grown in popularity stateside.
Team USA’s appearance at the recent World Championships in Constanta, Romania can only help the continued growth of the format and given the reaction from the athletes in attendance it seems that we will be seeing a lot more in the future from our friends across the Atlantic.
One of the big takeaways from the American athletes is how much fun the sport is. Unlike traditional wrestling, which is super competitive, Beach Wrestling, although still super competitive once inside the circle, is a lot more fun than other disciplines. Maybe it’s the music playing throughout the day, maybe it’s the sun shining down as you sit beach side when not competing, or the general friendly vibe amongst fans, officials, and athletes alike but there’s something that, according to the athletes is just different.
We spoke to the five members of Team USA after the medals had been handed out and although they were disappointed not to see any of their team-mates on the podium it made them more determined to improve so that next time round the star-spangled banner may just ring out in victory when the sand settles.
Breanna Stikkelman (-60kg) has won medals in several different hand combat sports, including being the UWW Grappling world championship gold medalist and won the US Beach National Championships in 2021 to seal her place on the team roster. She is in no doubt that Beach Wrestling is the place to be despite her 7th place finish in Constanta.
The 28-year-old from California said: “I hope we sparked a wave of interest in Beach Wrestling back home. We need more beach comps and team practices back home if we plan to medal in the future and a greater emphasis on Greco style technique. Regardless I had a wonderful time. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. I never thought I would be wrestling prestigious wrestlers from foreign lands on the beach then feasting and celebrating with them after on the beach. The culture around this sport is amazing.”
Jamal Morris (-80kg) had an amazing experience in Constanta and is itching to get back onto the sand and continue to develop his technique on the sand to help him compete with the European wrestlers inside the sandy circle. The 2021 US National Beach Wrestling champion picked up a group stage win beating Dimitar Angelov of Bulgaria and like Stikkleman also finished 7th overall in the placings but he is hungry for more: “It was my first world tournament so getting the opportunity to travel and compete against some of the toughest competition in the world is a blessing. I can’t wait to get back on the sand and compete on the world’s stage again.”
Having given up wrestling four years ago after the birth of her son, Tiaira Scott (+70kg) still had the sport in her blood and when she decided to make a comeback, she didn’t think for one minute that it would lead to her taking part on the sand in the Beach Wrestling World Series and be travelling to Romania to do so. The All American 2-time National champion said: “Four years ago I couldn’t have imagined being part of Team USA at a Beach Wrestling World Championships but follow your dreams. If you have a goal and want to achieve it, work hard and do everything you can to get there, and one day it will come true.”
Since the inception of the Beach Wrestling World Series, Michael Peters (-70 kg) has been both a fan and a competitor. Often the only Team USA entrant at events Michael has been somewhat a trailblazer for American Beach Wrestling and it’s testament to the effort he has put in that it’s grabbed the attention of his compatriots who are now turning more and more to the sport.
The 2019 World Series bronze medallist had a tougher time of it in the 2021 edition, but he is determined to come back stronger next year: “It has been great representing the United States on the international stage of Beach Wrestling. This year was our largest delegation ever for Beach Wrestling and that is a great sign for the growth of Beach Wrestling in the United States. I am looking forward to the upcoming 2022 Beach Wrestling season and returning to the podium.”
A fifth placed overall finish was an excellent return for Anthony Raupp in the -80kg who picked up two group stage wins in Romania. Given a little more time adapting to the sand game he feels he could do even better when 2022 comes around. The North Dakotan had a blast on the beach and can’t wait to hit the sand again as soon as he can. “I’m very grateful to be able to wrestle and represent USA. I felt very comfortable in the sand and feel I can win the tournament next go around.”
It’s all looking positive for Team USA and with plans of getting the sport into the Olympics and you can be sure that the team will have big plans of putting together a team to medal in the years to come.
We look forward to seeing more of Team USA in the coming months and years as the popularity of Beach Wrestling continues to grow and more wrestlers take part.