The official 204 Jolly Roger, the one above the squat racks, was purchased in February 2009 in a nautical museum in San Diego, Calif.
I was in San Diego for a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar after I had quit my job in the media industry to pursue a career in fitness. At the time, I had been doing CrossFit since early 2008, and I was working for just about minimum wage handing out towels at a traditional gym, scraping together some freelance writing on the side. I had decided I would take every fitness course I could and become a fitness writer.
Flying to San Diego to learn more about a fitness program that was both retro and revolutionary was perhaps not the smartest financial decision given my underemployment at the time, and it was certainly a big step outside fitness courses in which I was taught training principles that were all essentially just bodybuilding protocols.
While I was down there for the course—taught by early CrossFit stars Greg Amundson, Josh Everett and Pat Barber—I wanted to find a souvenir that would remind me of the terrifying decision to completely quit a career and start another while still paying a mortgage.
I’d always wanted a pirate flag, and when I found one in a floating gift shop, it seemed the perfect thing to symbolize a sharp departure from traditional employment. I chose the Brethren of the Coast flag, and after doing a bit of research I learned that the Brethren, at least early on, were not criminals but rather roguish privateers who followed a code of conduct.
All that seemed right up my alley, so I brought the flag home and put it up in my Silence of the Lambs creepy downtown basement above my slowly growing pile of fitness equipment collected from garage sales and Kijiji.
I started teaching fitness classes in April 2009, and we became CrossFit 204 in September 2010 after affiliation was suggested by Coach Greg Glassman. We continued at the Assiniboine Athletic Club, and the flag hung down in the basement until I had about four giant tires on my porch, rings strapped to a basement rafter, a squat rack for a “closet” on the second floor of the house, a barbell next to the TV and a reverse hyper for a desk.
Then we made the move to Berry Street in June 2011. Opening a non-traditional gym and plotting our own course seemed to fit the pirate mentality perfectly, and the flag was the first thing I put up after we got a set of keys to the building. It hangs next to the horns that once sat above the bar in my parents’ basement. The Athletes Code, our own pirate code, went up beside the “grand cabin,” and we pointed the ship at the horizon.
I’ve been back to San Diego twice since 2009, and there are two more pirate flags as a result. One is the beatings-will-continue flag for “away games.” It went to the 2013 Canada West Regional, and it bears a very special patch in memory of Brett’s mom. There’s a smaller one in the office: “No mercy, no quarter.”
To paraphrase the great Hunter S. Thompson, a pirate himself, once you get locked in on something, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. And so we did.
The Jolly Roger went up on this website to announce holiday workouts, people started bringing us pirate shirts from vacations, more trinkets and knick-knacks appeared, we started handing out Jolly Rogers as prizes at competitions, Halloween costumes got more creative, people started talking like pirates (maybe just me), and we found suitably piratical patches for the 204 hoodies.
And so on.
More than anything else, the Jolly Roger represents the attitude and courage required to go against the flow while having a hell of a good time doing it. That mentality is one of the founding principles of the gym, and all our members share it, whether they know it or not. If they didn’t, they’d still be doing delt raises instead of deadlifts.