WAIKIKI – It was a little more than a mile down the road where Taylor Crabb’s sixth AVP title — the AVP Hawai’i Open on Sunday — was really won. On a court a little less than half the size, with a lowered net, where milkshakes, not thousands in prize money and championship titles, were on the line.
It’s become famous now, the Baby Court at the Outrigger Canoe Club, the proving grounds of Crabb and his brother, Trevor, and Tri Bourne and Riley and Madison McKibbin, among a host of others.
“It’s basically like playing mini tennis,” Crabb once said of the Baby Court. “It’s perfect for kids growing up. It’s a low net. We grew up playing on that together and our parents would, for our birthdays, would host a tournament with all of us. We would play a 2-on-2 tournament for one of our birthdays. We’d all play with each other and against each other. Having a group of that caliber helped us to this day, for sure.”
They were all competing this weekend, those Outrigger rugrats. Just a short drive from where they put in all those childhood reps. In an ending fit for Hollywood, to where they’ve all since moved near, it was the youngest who kept the title home.
“I had nothing left,” Crabb said after he and Jake Gibb beat Theo Brunner and John Hyden in the finals, 18-21, 22-20, 17-15. “But you guys kept us going.”
Crabb and Gibb kept going, no matter how improbable it looked. No matter if they were down at the freeze in the second set, as they were, clawing their way back into it to force a third. No matter if they were down 13-12 in the third, as they were, grinding to beat Brunner and Hyden to the freeze. No matter if Hyden, 46 years of age be damned, continued to pick up digs that just didn’t seem possible.
“Guy’s a freak,” Gibb said afterwards. “I don’t like him. He’s just an amazing, amazing player and it’s a treasure to compete against him. At one point, I threw my chair in the box because it’s just so frustrating.”
Fortunate, then, to have a guy behind him who incites similar reactions. Crabb, like Hyden though a little less than 20 years younger, makes plays that are delightfully absurd. Plays like a one-handed, leaning set in transition to put Gibb on a tee. Plays like covering one side of the court then the next, adding a transition kill in the process. Plays that can’t be taught, only to be learned by doing.
Plays that are produced by games over milkshakes down the road, at birthday parties and long summer days at the Outrigger Canoe Club. Bourne once likened it to a daycare, though it’s beginning to bear the appearance of a breeding ground of champions, as Bourne, both Crabbs and Madison McKibbin all have AVP titles to their name.
“There’s a history of great volleyball players who grew up where we did,” Taylor said. “Having that as a vision certainly helped.”
And now, whether he knows it or not, Taylor Crabb has become that vision.