SUNDAY AUGUST 28… Wrestlers love their heroes! The term itself instantly spawns images of JB, or Gable (the 1972 Gable), or Chun, or Gray, or…
There is another branch of heroes in the world of wrestling. He is the person who appreciates a vision and is willing to take risks to promote what that vision could bring to our sport. I’m going to tell you about two of Beach Wrestling’s heroes.
They are USA Wrestling Communications Director Gary Abbott and North Carolina Wrestling State President Ed Duncan. These two visionaries went above and beyond to develop the American presence in this developing style.
It’s not easy to watch and feel mankind’s oldest sport when it faces growing pains. The knee-jerk reaction, for many, is to protect what is considered tradition. For us in the United States, that means researching school wrestling and Olympic styles.
As we all celebrate the “arrival” of women’s wrestling, think about the time and struggle involved in this journey. I clearly remember a lot of well-positioned closed minds giggling whenever a girl walked on the mat.
Beach Wrestling has seen a similar evolution. Gary Abbott has a pretty keen internal radar. In his coverage of the entire struggle, Gary saw this outside release as an opportunity. And, he saw it early.
Gary was instrumental in helping New Mexico host the first US National Championship in 2004. Hosted near Carlsbad Caverns State Park, I remember joking with attendees about the lack of water in New Mexico. “The beach is not the water,” I reminded people. “It’s the sand!” New Mexico has a lot of ‘Beach’. ”
Gary helped build USA Wrestling’s World First Team, competing in Antalya, Turkey in 2006. Even though Developing Style’s athletes and coaches travel independently (still true today), Gary has always been the. He advocates, by all means, helping with equipment, logistics, preparation and planning.
Of course, Gary’s strong point is the media coverage. It was his profession and his gift for sport that loved him. Gary has never been shy about putting commendable effort into public view. Following his “gut,” Gary helped the American wrestling community discover, follow, and appreciate Beach Wrestling.
Ed Duncan lives in a state with beautiful beaches… North Carolina. Even though Ed lives in the mountainous western part of the state, he quickly realized what the mix of wrestling and the beach could do to grow all of wrestling.
In the early 1920s, USA Wrestling’s National Beach Championship left Rochester, NY. As state chairman, Ed worked with his NC chapter to give the event a new home. The annual National Beach Wrestling Championship remains a fixture in Carolina Beach each May.
When United World Wrestling set up its beach wrestling commission, Ed was the logical choice for USA Wrestling. Ed represents the interests of all of North America on this commission.
Ed’s most recent mastermind is USA Wrestling’s Beach Tour of America. In its first year, the BTOA saw over 10 events, scattered from coast to coast and across the heartland of the country. A giant step was the inclusion of a Beach event during our famous ‘Fargo’.
In addition to his role on the UWW commission, Ed served as team leader for the US delegations to the World Series Finals and the 2019 ANOC World Beach Games. As we approach the 2023 edition of this major event, Ed’s work with BTOA is helping American athletes claim valuable spots on this team.
United World Wrestling serves the world, but lives in Europe. The European discussion, over the past three years, includes a strong hint that Beach Wrestling could make its Olympic debut… as early as LA ’28.
Think what you will of that. Protect tradition or invest in the future. But, I will tell you this with certainty: whatever the future of Beach Wrestling, American athletes will have far more opportunity and success because Ed Duncan and Gary Abbott have shown the courage to give it a chance. Hero!
2022 Beach World Series Action Image courtesy of United World Wrestling
Editor’s note: Please add Rusty Davidson to the list of beach heroes.