Remembering Ed Chan, a friend, great photographer, mentor, volleyball icon

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Ed and Mike Gomez enjoying shooting an NCAA Championship

One day in the spring of 2016, my cellphone rang.

It was Ed Chan. 

“We can buy Volleyball magazine if you want,” Ed said.

“Sure,” I replied.

“OK,” he said.

“Thanks. Keep me posted.”

And that was it.

It was a call that changed both our lives, and, we’d like to think, the volleyball world for the better.

We were more than business partners. We came from different worlds, could not have been less alike, and grew to be great friends, sometimes talking on the phone 10 times a day, he from his home in San Diego and me from mine in Baton Rouge. I drove him nuts, and he put up with me, and along the way we made VolleyballMag.com the best it could be day in and day out.

Now he’s gone, and in many ways I feel like I lost a brother.

***

Ed Chan had many loves and likes. But I’m betting the top three were his wife, Julie, volleyball, and food. 

Julie is a wonderful person doing the best she can in the aftermath of Ed’s sudden and surprising death two weeks ago. 

The volleyball world, especially beach volleyball, lost a beloved icon. 

Ed was more than the best volleyball photographer. He was the nicest man you have ever met. And later in this piece, you’ll hear from some of his photog buddies and others who knew him through VolleyballMag.com and the volleyball world.

As you would imagine, this is tough to write. I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll start at the beginning.

Thanks to two of its former editors, first Aubrey Everett and then Megan Kaplon, Volleyball magazine would host a dinner for its freelancers at the NCAA women’s and men’s final fours.

Ed, Julie, Aubrey, Megan after a news conference at the 2012 NCAA Championship in Louisville

And that’s how I got to know Ed and Julie, who always called him Eddie.

Ed and I had vastly different personalities. He took photos, I wrote stories, and, except for volleyball, we seemed to have little in common. But I enjoyed getting to know him. Julie, who came to all those events and helped Ed lug around all that damn photo equipment, even jumped in and shot the matches.

As things progressed into 2015, I was disenchanted with Volleyball magazine and, while still contributing, started a website called DestinationVolleyball.com. As we got into 2016, I decided it was time to make that bigger and better and put Volleyball magazine out of business.

One of the first people I talked to about it was Ed. He and a few others were on board. Things began to move in that direction until that fateful day, while I was driving from Baton Rouge to Houston.

Ed was calling. 

Ed never called.

Within 30 seconds, we were on our way to becoming what I’ve jokingly called “publishing magnates.”

Ed bought the magazine, and it wasn’t until more than three years later that I even knew how much he paid. He procured it, we each threw in a bunch of operating cash, I took care of the business end, and we got to launching the new website. Shortly before the 2016 Olympics, we folded the print version of the magazine and launched the new-and-improved version of VolleyballMag.com.

We never looked back and have grown VolleyballMag.com exponentially.

Which, if you think about it, is simply amazing when you consider what an odd couple we were. The self-professed “quiet Chinese guy” in San Diego and an obnoxious New Yorker living in Louisiana.

But we liked each other and worked so well together and loved what we were doing. We never took a penny, either, putting all the money back into the website, using it for travel, and to pay freelancers.

Hanging out in San Diego in June 2018

On days when we worked especially hard and were proud of what we’d done, Ed would joke that he was going to double my pay.

***

Ed died in his sleep September 3 in his hotel, after covering the two days of qualifying at AVP Chicago. He was 60.

It’s not right, it’s not fair, and it’s so freakin’ sad. 

He was the nicest man you have ever known, and he simply loved volleyball, especially beach volleyball. He loved the sport, and he loved the people, from the players to support personnel to the fans to the officials and especially his fellow shooters. 

And he must have loved the sand. 

When I went to Chicago that weekend in September to take care of his possessions (did I mention all that damn camera equipment?) there was a full cup of sand that I scooped out of one of his suitcases. 

We covered a few beach events together, but after getting sunburn and blisters on my feet at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna in 2017, I told him I’d kill him if he ever made me go to a pro beach event again. I laughed about that two weeks ago when I was covering the last two days of AVP Chicago.

And in all seriousness, Ed came to AVPNext in New Orleans this past June because I wanted us to cover it together. 

I happened to be looking at the entry list and was taken aback by the number of big-time players scheduled to be there. I called him and told him to book a flight. 

I’m so glad I did, because that was the last time we were together, and I will always treasure those few days.

But that was in person. Regardless of where we were, we talked on the phone so many times a day, always working around being two time zones apart. We laughed and argued like an old married couple and somehow always got things posted on the website and social media and said goodbye. Then we started all over the next day. 

I would give anything to do it again.

***

There were so many people in our business who loved Ed. Here are thoughts from some of them.

FORMER VOLLEYBALL MAGAZINE EDITOR MEGAN KAPLON: Ed was obviously an incredible photographer. In the years that I served as editor of Volleyball magazine, I always knew the perfect cover shot would be nestled among the files he sent me from the event he had been shooting that month. He had stamina and dedication for his craft and for the sport that I haven’t seen many others rival. At events, when I would head back to the hotel and go to sleep, he would stay up for hours sorting through photos and selecting the best shots so he would be ready to go in the morning for another day of volleyball.

But more importantly, Ed possessed a kind, welcoming personality. He and his wife, Julie, always had plans for exploring and adventuring in whatever city we found ourselves in and they were happy to bring me along. Long after I’ve forgotten the details of who won which championship, I’ll remember devouring chocolate-cake milkshakes and hot dogs with the Chans at Portillo’s in Chicago, walking the grounds of the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, and taking in the view from the top of the Space Needle. 

One year, with the men’s finals in San Francisco, Ed even offered for me to stay with him and Julie at his sister’s house. During that same trip, I got to see Ed’s childhood home, just a few blocks from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I can’t count the number of invites I received from Ed and Julie to fly into San Diego and drive over the border with them to play in the Rosarito tournament. I deeply regret never accepting.

Just a few months ago, Ed called to congratulate me and my fiancé, Ryan, on our engagement. The Facebook announcement can’t have been live but for more than a few hours, and Ed was one of the first people to reach out. Not that I’m surprised. That’s just who he was.

PHOTOGRAPHER MARK RIGNEY: When it comes to volleyball, it just seems that Ed was always there. He was always there, happy and smiling, bright and early — something that he liked to laugh at me about as I rolled in just in time for the first match. Big event, small event, indoor, outdoor — it didn’t matter — Ed loved it all. I always envied his nonstop energy.  

He would tell me how he needed to be on campus to shoot an indoor match later in the day but he should have time to make it to the beach and squeeze in a few matches first or that he was shooting at USC in the morning but he should have time to be aa UCLA for the late matches. During the 2019 World Championships in Hamburg, every day was a grind with long days of shooting that were followed by long nights of editing and early wake-up calls to do it all again. And Ed was always the first one up, ready to go…  Smiling through it all. His love of the sport was as big as his appetite.

He started the beach volleyball photographers’ Facebook group. He was a sounding board, mentor and most importantly a friend. They say some people will give you the shirt off their back. Ed would loan you the camera out of his bag. Always ready to help when anyone had a problem with gear, always ready to fight through it with a smile and upbeat attitude when he had a problem.

Ed in 2009

PHOTOGRAPHER KEN DELGADO: Just my awe and amazement at what he achieved. And the words that come to my mind when I think of Ed are passion, humor, dedication, fun. He encompassed all of those in living his life and realizing his dreams.

PHOTOGRAPHER BRIAN WHITE: I met Ed in 2008 at the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Santa Barbara. It was my first day at the tournament, and as I was walking across the sand with my pathetic kit lens, I saw a guy sitting in the sand with a monopod and a big, white lens. Impressed by his gear, I walked up from behind and introduced myself.

As anyone who has ever met Ed can guess, he was as gracious as ever. Whether he was frantically jumping from match to match or letting me try out the latest gear he got, he was always a friendly face on the beach.

PHOTOGRAPHER JIM WOLF: While Ed will always be remembered as the best photographer to ever cover the great sport of volleyball, I will always remember Ed as someone who would support and encourage others over his own self-promotion, the true actions of an amazing individual.

SPORTS REPORTER PHIL COLLIN: The volleyball community has suffered a tremendous loss. Ed was not only a great photog and a comprehensive writer, he is one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met. Fast on the draw with the shutter, quicker on the draw with a smile and kind words. Everybody loved working with him because he was a passionate PROFESSIONAL. Every player I’ve ever talked to (a lot) paid nothing but respect for him as he went about his work.

PHOTOGRAPHER JOHN GELDERMANN: Rest In Peace, Ed Chan. You were my mentor and friend. Your positivity and good humor were absolutely unparalleled. 

You were always there to lend a hand, whether we needed to borrow some gear, ask technical questions, or even get a ride up the steep hills of Manhattan Beach after a long day of shooting, you could always be counted on. 

I’m so glad that you were able to achieve your goal of shooting the Olympics. You were a big deal celebrity in our eyes!

PHOTOGRAPHER STEPHEN BURNS: Nobody has influenced my growth as a volleyball photographer more than Ed Chan. I first met Ed in 2015, on Alki Beach in Seattle … and immediately I realized I was speaking with Ed Chan, whose work I was very familiar with. I was thrilled that he had seen some of my work online. I discussed gear and technique with him. … He encouraged me to keep in touch, saying, “There aren’t enough of us,” referring to photographers who can capture sharp action shots of volleyball players.

Although I was frequently in touch with Ed, I only was able to attend a few beach tournaments with him. What did I see?  The same thing that others have been saying. Ed would stop and say hello to everyone. He loaned photo gear to other pro photographers who were in need. He never boasted that he got a better photo than the rest of us. There was no competition. He wanted everyone to get photos that show what a great sport volleyball is, for players and fans. I am so appreciative of the time he spent helping me.

Ed Chan/Michael Gomez photo

PHOTOGRAPHER MICHAEL GOMEZ: At the 2019 FIVB World Championships, we spent almost two weeks together, GRINDING through LONG days of shooting, LONG nights of editing and really no sleep. But we didn’t care, we were both so excited each day about the upcoming day’s matches, despite the lack of good sleep…

The volleyball community lost someone very special, and those of us who knew Ed lost a dear friend, so suddenly.

BEACH PLAYER, PROMOTER SHAWN LEDIG: For those of you who didn’t know him, Ed Chan was one of the most popular and well-respected photographers in competitive and grassroots volleyball in the world. Ed not only took the most amazing photos, but he also published many great stories with VolleyballMag.com. His stories not only showed his expertise in capturing our sport of volleyball (indoors and beach), but also displayed the heart and soul of the game, its people, and their stories.

There will be a void left behind in the volleyball community with him gone.  We can all rest assured knowing that his legacy will live on through our memories of his infectious smile, kindness, generosity, and the way he lived life to the fullest. He was as genuine as anyone I’ve ever known. If you knew him, you had to like him.

Ed, Travis, Lee at the 2019 NCAA Championship in Pittsburgh

PRO BEACH PLAYER, VBM WRITER TRAVIS MEWHIRTER: I’m not sure if any beach volleyball player will be able to remember, in any sort of detail, the exact time they met Ed Chan. Ed was the sport’s omniscient presence; he was just always there, camera in hand, doing exactly what he loved, for the type of people he loved most: Beach volleyball players.

An addendum, perhaps, to that last sentence: Ed Chan loved beach volleyball players, yes. And the man loved taking photos. But if there are only two aspects of his life that Ed ever cared to let anyone know, it is that he loved taking photos, and he loved his wife, Julie.

That is, in my mind, the mark of a man who has made it. Ed’s final years were lived in his own personal Valhalla: The two things he loved most in life are exactly what his world revolved around. That’s all most knew about Ed, and that’s all he ever wanted people to know: Photos and Julie.

That’s it.

That was Ed’s life. And what a beautiful one it was.

The day before Ed passed, I walked by him on the breathtaking pathway from North Avenue to Oak Street. He had, as always, camera in hand, fiddling with something or other. He made the same joke photographers love to make about my Maryland flag tank top: “Thanks for wearing that. It works as a good autofocus.”

And then he was off, likely to sift through thousands of photos, photos he would spend editing with Mark Rigney until 4 in the morning. There’s a certain solace for those of us who knew Ed decently well: In Ed’s final moments, his soul was not burdened or troubled, his mind not racing with dark and dreary thoughts. Ed was in his own personal Valhalla.

Now he’s in a different sort of Heaven, though one I’m sure still has cameras and lenses and volleyball. A Heaven that just might have needed someone like Ed Chan.

***

As I said, the last time Ed and I were together was in New Orleans for AVPNext. The night before the tournament, we bumped into Shawn Ledig. He was blown away that THE Ed Chan was there. And I am so glad we took this photo, the last one of us together:

Ed, Shawn, Lee in New Orleans June 2021

For that matter, I’m so glad I took this one of Ed the next day:

Many thanks to the folks who contributed to this piece. Thanks, too, to the many who reached out with condolences and well wishes. We all miss Ed and always will. I am so grateful that we got to spend five fantastic years together and will treasure that time always.

***

There will be a celebration of Ed’s life in San Diego on Sunday, November 7. Our hope is to stream it online for those who can’t attend but want to be a part of it. Click here for more details.

Ed and the guys

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a loss. As someone who shoots volleyball for a number of clients, I was always inspired by Ed’s work. Anyone that appreciates the game realizes how hard it is to get volleyball its due course within media circles. Understanding and capturing the game of volleyball is an art; an art that Ed happily shared with anyone that would pay attention.

    Tim

  2. While it’s been many years since I was in person with Ed and Julie, reading these stories makes me grateful that he touch so many others the way he touched my life. Charisma, happiness, and always up for a fun game, nice meal or just a relaxed time hanging out. Such a welcoming person I’m not surprised and grateful Julie has so many wonderful people to lean on. I recall the last time I drove through California I had lost their contact information and told myself I would find it before my next visit. Yikes life’s short so seize the moment.

  3. I am SSSOOO SHOCKED to learn of Ed’s passing.
    When my friend told me I was floored, I had just seen him at the AVP tournament at Huntington Beach. We spoke briefly, because he was busy working and talking to people.
    I knew Ed from Volleyball, and actually worked for him when he was living in Sacramento. He was running Volleyball Cafe…..What great memories 🤓
    Ed asked me to play in a men’s 6 man league, but Ed being Ed ……we played with only 4 guys. What a Blast it was, Ed was our Setter, I was the OH, Carl from Sac state was the Opp, and Trevin was our middle and the youngester. Teams were frustrated and some even pissed that we could beat them minus two players 😝😜😝
    That is ALWAYS one of my Best volleyball memories, playing on that team.

    Ed was always one of the Best Human Beings I have ever meet in my Life. A Very Kind and Gentle Soul. He will be be DEEPLY MISSED by me and the Volleyball World. I am sending you Good Thoughts and saying a Prayer for you, Julie.

    Michael Obeso

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