Evolution of the Open with Craig Howard of Diablo CrossFit


Diablo CrossFit, with locations in Pleasant Hill and San Jose, California, has been in the CrossFit industry since 2005. Participating in the Open since its inception, owner Craig Howard has seen it all. And while the industry is ever changing, Howard sat down with Box Pro Magazine to discuss the ebb and flow of the orchestration behind hosting the Open at Diablo.

Box Pro: How has the Open changed since Diablo began participating?

Craig Howard: The first year the Open came out we hosted it at Diablo, and we simply programmed it into our daily workout. The majority of members would come on a Saturday to do it and eventually it turned into an event people wanted to participate in, cheer and celebrate.

Since that time, in the last three years of the Open, we have essentially organized around the event of doing the workout itself. In the past, it was us saying a majority of us would be there at a date and time doing the workout, now it has evolved into a Friday Night Lights or a Saturday Main Event. In our San Jose location, that gym likes doing it in the evenings so we do the Friday Night Lights. In Pleasant Hill, we do a Saturday Main Event that starts at nine in the morning and goes until one. The top athletes go at 10 a.m. There will be mimosas, food, a coffee truck; the whole thing is a big celebration of doing the event. This year we have over 200 athletes signed up between the two locations. It promises to be a good event.

BP: How have you seen the operational evolution of how Affiliates have to prepare for the Open evolve?

CH: In the early years, we would just put it on our class schedule, do the workout and rely on CrossFit to market it for us. We have come to realize we need to be more organized, do more marketing, and do more communication with members to get them interested and to run it efficiently. We found if we run a very efficient program, more people want to do it and it makes it easier for us to adhere to the rules and regulations of CrossFit.

What’s happened mostly over the last five years is there has been an aggressive change in the rules and enforcement of them by CrossFit. You have to be judged by a certified judge. It’s not that the rules weren’t important before, but there was more reliance on the community to follow them. It’s got so big now that they have got tougher. We have to be more structured and organized.

Diablo has top athletes who go to the Games every year since almost the inception of the Games. What’s really important is that Diablo upholds standards from our newest members to our most veteran athlete. The reason is if we are seen as not upholding those standards, then all of the work and effort from our top athletes is diminished, potentially jeopardized. If an athlete wins the Open and makes it to Regionals from Diablo, yet we have been called out for standards violation, then that impacts the athlete. One of the downsides of being well known and having a reputation is you start to get looked to for being the standard bearer. That’s why we follow the regulations very strictly because we would never want to jeopardize an athlete.

BP: Last year there was a mad dash from Affiliates to purchase dumbbells. Is that something you think about beforehand — purchasing equipment or making sure you are prepared to?

CH: We have a diverse array of equipment in our gym. However, I confess that we did have to go buy 50-pound dumbbells because we didn’t have a lot of those. We did have the budget and capability to do that. It troubles me though that some Affiliates were unable to do that. It seemed in some cases unreasonable because we want as many people to do the Open as possible. In that case, there would have been a lot less headache if they used 25-pound dumbbells or 45-pound dumbbells, which most people have. I’d like to think that was an oversight on Dave Castro’s part.

I hope we aren’t forced to purchase equipment this year. Something HQ might see as simple, like using a 30-pound wall ball for men, will have Affiliates scrambling to find them. Advanced warning from HQ with respect to what we should be ready for would be great. A simple email to all the Affiliate owners in December would be great and I do not think it would compromise the competition in any way. Just an email simply saying, “You guys should plan on having the following equipment in your gym…” would be ideal.

BP: What do you see the future of the Open looking like in the coming years?

CH: I think there will be more diverse tests of fitness than the standard movements we see today. I think you will see things like shuttle runs, handstand walking, new movements we haven’t thought of yet. I am waiting on the day where they go to an 11-foot wall ball for men and a 10-foot target for women. The diversity of movements is what we are going to see first in the next three to five years. I’m not sure what technology will allow beyond that because all of this has to be able to be videotaped.

I do think there will be more scoring opportunities coming as well. There are five workouts, but within those workouts will be multiple scoring opportunities. When Castro talks about being outside the Box, I think that’s what we may see this year. In other words, multiple workouts within the one workout. It would make the Open a better predictor for the fittest Athlete in the world.

 BP: What has been one evolution Diablo has made that has made a huge difference?

CH: One thing we have done this year that has reinvigorated the Open to get more community to participate is what we took from Chris Cooper, creating an intramural Open. The gym is divided into teams and it has given new life to our community and has served as a huge distraction from the event and anxiety of the Open itself. Our competition athletes have come up to me expressing it is the best and most relaxed about the Open they have felt. They say they owe it to the intramural Open. It has been such a fun distraction. Everyone is focused on that part of the process and it has been a game changer for our community and our business.

Kaitlyn Clay
Kaitlyn is a staff writer for Peake Media. Contact her at kaitlync@peakemedia.com.