THE SOUTH — For the past three weeks, I’ve been on the road: Nashville to St. Petersburg to Fort Walton to Orlando to St. Petersburg to Clearwater to, finally, California. The trip was designed for three purposes: A chance to reunite with old friends, alas getting to play again with my good buddy, JD Hamilton; an opportunity to play a few tournaments in a row; and, far more than the other two, it was a scouting trip.
Since early summer, my wife Delaney and I have wondered whether California was the right place for us. Little about the way the state is run aligns with our values. The only thing holding us here, we thought, was beach volleyball. But the more we talked about it, the more that seemed like a fragile thread that could keep someone tethered to a place. There’s beach volleyball, quite literally, everywhere, in this country.
Surely we could go somewhere else, somewhere that also had beach volleyball and was more directly aligned with what we sought in a culture. We had friends in Florida, which is what we believe to be the best place in the country outside of California to play beach volleyball. There were tournaments in Florida — literally everywhere in Florida, east coast, west coast, Panhandle, everywhere.
To Florida we would go.
What happened over the next three weeks took us both by a good deal of surprise. We immediately became enamored with Nashville, though it was also easy to determine that Tennessee is not our next move, but perhaps a permanent one years down the road. As we sat on the plane on Monday morning, after I had spent three weeks down South, we both agreed that the trip we expected to take us out of California for good, the trip that we were both rooting quite heavily for to encourage us to pack our bags and head to a state with no income taxes, was the very trip that confirmed just the opposite: California is exactly where we both need, and want, to be right now.
It shocked us both, to be honest, and I don’t say “shocked” with any amount of hyperbole. We’ve been talking about moving for months. I told Delaney I was ready when she was. Yet to see what we have here, in this beautiful and maddening state, is rare.
Maybe I forgot. It’s easy to when you’re surrounded by it, when you’re inculcated in this bubble of go-getters and admirable individuals in the top one percent of their craft. I forgot about the text my dad sent me after our wedding, when he met our most cherished volleyball friends — Corinne Quiggle, Katie Spieler, Tri and Gabby Bourne, Chase Frishman, Kyle Friend, Trevor Crabb, Jordan Cheng, Branagan Fuller, Ben Vaught — and said “That is a special group.”
“Not bad, Pops,” I replied, to which he said: “No. Special.”
He’s right. I knew it then, of course, and I know it now. But sometimes you forget just how special that group and place is when you’re quarantined with them for six or seven months. When you’re so surrounded by greatness that it becomes normal.
There is an appeal to Florida. There is no doubting that. Florida is fun. It’s wild. It produces talent, and excellent individuals. Sarah Schermerhorn and Kim Hildreth — who, I’d like to note, are both happily married, successful on and off the court, and are great human beings — and Dave Palm didn’t accidentally stumble into the careers they have. It’s old school down there and, to be frank, beach volleyball needs a bit more Florida in its blood.
If the cultures of California and Florida were players, California is Kent Steffes, Florida is Tim Hovland. California is buttoned up, professional. It’s up at 5 a.m. and in bed by nine, with a book in hand. Florida is loud, loose, wild, in the best of ways.
It’s a trash talking, drinking, in your face environment on the court then hug it out at the bar after. It’s entertaining. There’s a youthfulness to it, a hunger, players doing everything they can to prove themselves, in some way or other.
Florida is single; California is married with kids.
Florida is a Red Bull vodka; California is a green tea.
Florida is a Mustang; California is a Honda Pilot.
Florida was once the culture for me. It’s alluring. It’s young. Edgy, in a good way.
Maybe I’m too old. Too slow. The fast life of Florida isn’t the one for me.
Chatting with Spieler, who serves as a best friend and confidant to both Delaney and I, confirmed it for all three of us. We’ve grown to love the more staid culture of California. Our social batteries run low, and quick. Parties drain us more than triple-days of practices.
We love the pressure cooker of it, the grind of it, being surrounded by dozens and dozens of players who are better than you, losing constantly. You must look for a little improvement, every day, or get swallowed whole.
In California, we’ve found a small community of individuals who value the same ideals, who are equally as crazy about this game, and who will make whatever sacrifices are needed to pursue it in the manner we do.
Neither place is better than the other. Just different. Appealing depending on your lifestyle and preferences.
I was surprised to discover my own: That California is still where I belong, for now.
The next event in the Sunshine State is the Florida Pro Best of the Beach Tournament November 6-8 at Hickory Point Beach in Tavares. It’s got a purse that has grown to $60,000 ($30,000 for each gender)
The event will be held on November 6-8, 2020 at Hickory Point Beach in Tavares, FL and will now offer $60,000 in prize money (or $30,000 per gender). Click here for more information.
The preliminary list of competitors included on the men’s side aylor and Trevor Crabb, Phil Dalhausser, Chaim Schalk, Theo Brunner, Bill Kolinske, and Ricardo Santos. The women’s list included Kelly Claes, Kelley Kolinske, Emily Stockman, and Traci Callahan.
Click here for our report last week on other Florida tournaments.