Week 35: Tribal Clash

This week’s new find is a bit different… and an escape from London!

Tribal Clash is a two day team fitness competition on a beach. It started out in Devon in 2014 and also now runs weekends in Portugal, France and Dubai.

In teams of six (three girls, three guys) it takes fitness out of the gym, combining CrossFit style workouts with obstacle racing, strongman, trail running, swimming, and – this year – team SUP.

For the last couple of years I’ve wanted to go but have been away, so this year I jumped at the chance to sign up, along with a gang of Blitz members.

What They Say:

Tribal Clash is an electrifying fusion of functional fitness, obstacle racing, adventure racing and a beach festival.

The entire competition is outdoors. The teams compete in several separate and varied events during the weekend, which are all kept secret until the competition. The teams have to come prepared for anything and everything – we like surprises. Most events take place on the Arena constructed on the beach, some events take the athletes to the water, and some events take them to the trails surrounding the beach.

You will never work as hard as you do at Tribal Clash. Your legs will burn, your lungs will burst, your hands will blister. You may break down emotionally and mentally, only to be picked up by your team mates telling you to keep going. By Sunday afternoon, you will be broken, drained and depleted.

My Experience:

No-one wants to pay hundreds of pounds to be broken down emotionally and physically, but fitness and a beach festival? Er…. sign me jump! I’d heard great reports from friends who’d been before and was excited to experience what it was all about.

The setting was Bantham, a cove beach on the South Devon coast, and I set off on the long journey south-west full of anticipation. Every time I pass out of the M25 I feel a wave of relaxation pass through me; driving down to Devon on this sunny Friday afternoon, I felt the hustle and bustle of London melt away as the green and pleasant landscape whizzed by. I arrived early and headed straight to the beach, a huge smile cracking across my face as I turned a corner on the single track lane and saw the sea for the first time. I ran straight down to the water, tossed my shoes and just stood there ankle deep for a few minutes, feeling the chilly waves lap over my feet and bright sunshine on my face. What simple joy!

There was a huge wooden rig set up along one half of the beach, about 15’ tall and stretching across 16 lanes. Lots of day trippers were checking it out inquisitively, one grumpy man declaring “this is a public beach, not a sports day!”. It was a pretty impressive structure and I was immediately excited about getting on it the next day!

Hardy competitors choose to camp onsite, but the team we’d assembled from Blitz eschewed that option and rented a cottage a few miles away for the long weekend. It was a shame we couldn’t spend much time there, as the house was immense, with a huge kitchen making it a dream for me to prepare a gazillion meals for the next couple of days; after a fortnight in Madison with team JST I have meal prep down to a fine art and the Blitz team would be eating like CrossFit Games athletes for the weekend!

Friday night came and the next day’s events were announced: rope swings, a slosh pipe carry over and under obstacles, clambering over a high beam, atlas stones, a 6-man SUP race and a trail run – this event had a bit of everything… and that was just day one!

We got to the beach early on Saturday morning and the sun was blazing. Hooray! We set up camp with a huge gazebo and camping chairs and went to watch the early heats. There were 160 teams completing in total… nearly 1,000 people! There was a real festival atmosphere with sand, sun and music blaring as teams competed. Our heat neared and we headed to the starting pen. The organisation was slick, with everything timed to the minute so we knew exactly where we had to be and when. As soon as the whistle went we started swinging across beams on a rope and knew this was going to be fun. A great combination of fitness and strategy – you needed to work well as a team and everyone had to contribute their part. We were very much there for fun, but it was awesome to watch some of the competitive teams who were there.

The atlas stones and slosh pipe were fun, but the most memorable part of the day was the team SUP. We hadn’t had a chance to try this out so in we ran to the water with no idea of what to expect… we knew it would be a case of learning on the go, but didn’t realise quite how much ‘fun’ it would be. We starting off veering spectacularly off course and, once we got back on track, realised the weight distribution wasn’t quite right and had stumbles all over the place as the waves crashed into us. I have never laughed so hard while exercising – after being lapped and making it back to dry land my abs were hurting, and I don’t think it was from paddling. Once we switched positions and got into the swing of things it was actually really good – I definitely want to do this again!

The final event of the day was an awesome trail run, starting with a sprint along the length of the beach, following by dunes, tracks and grassy hills. Halfway through there was a 200m time trial up a ridiculously steep dirt track – I was determined to gain spots here and almost collapsed at the top, expletives exploding out of my mouth like I had Tourette’s. The run continued and, as we came towards the final 800m or so, we turned a corner at the top of the cliff and the view was spectacular as the sun was setting! I took a moment as I ran just to soak it all in – simply stunning. The run finished with the most gruelling uphill climb – people scrambling on hands and knees to the finish line. As I finished I was on an adrenaline high. My calves were cramping to high heaven, but that had been a proper lung buster and so satisfying to really push to the limit.

It had been a long day; 12 hours on the beach. We slept well that night, with no idea yet what the next day’s events would bring.

And then came the rain…

We woke to rain, the ever trusty iPhone weather app telling us there was a 100% chance it was going to continue all day; not even a glimmer of hope! As we arrived at the beach it was a completely different scene to the previous day. The vendor area – with pop up shops, physios and food – had completely flooded and sodden campers were traipsing down towards the sea. The waves crashed in and we could barely see off shore. It was rank, but everyone was still smiling! The gazebo went up and we huddled up in our cocoon, ever so thankful for dry towels and socks.

There were two more events on the Sunday before a cut. The top 32 teams would proceed to a semi final tug-of-war, the top 16 making the final. The first event of the day was awesome: 25 sandbag worm clean + squat + thruster overhead into max rope climbs. The soggy worm weighed 240kg dry, but the rain made it feel much heavier. We’d never touched a worm before and worked really well as team to man up and get through it. It hurt, and if one person had wimped out on a squat or thruster it would have been a long, painful slog, but everyone gritted their teeth and got on with it. On to the rope climbs and my absolute highlight of the whole weekend was seeing one of our team make the top in the dying seconds, having never climbed a rope before last week. She showed balls of steel as she calmly climbed in howling wind and rain and took an almighty reach to smack the beam at the top with just a second to spare. We were meant to swim but no sane person would send 1,000 people into those waves, so the second event was amended to include more dune running (this time while carrying a long slosh pipe), burpees and team tyre push presses.

Suffice to say we didn’t make the semi-final, and as we headed back to our cars we were sandy, sodden and all smiles. What a weekend. The were highs, there were lows and there was camaraderie all round. Sign me up for next year!


In Summary:

This was such a great event, combining a whole range of physical tests with teamwork, all with a stunning backdrop. How often would you run as fast as you could along sand, or hoist a sandy atlas stone to your shoulder, or climb a rope in the rain? Some teams were amazingly strong, others (like ours) were never going to challenge for a top spot, but the events were perfectly planned so everyone could have a craic and everyone could be challenged. It ran like clockwork and the setting was stunning.

Would it have been better if it had stayed sunny all weekend? Maybe… but I actually think the biblical weather added to the spirit of the whole thing. This event isn’t cheap to enter (£110 per person) but totally worth it for the scale and quality of the operation – it is certainly no profit maker and the set up was awesome. As well as the immense rig and equipment, there were also great food and coffee options and well stocked shops… until they got flooded!!

Tribal Clash was born from the CrossFit world and most teams come from CrossFit affiliates, but anyone could enter a team. If you want a fun weekend with friends that will challenge you, you won’t regret signing up.


Cost: £660 per team, additional cost if you camp.

How to book: http://www.tribalclash.com

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