Florida beach volleyball vs. California? Kim Hildreth has her own thoughts on why East beats West

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Kim Hildreth celebrates during a 2018 AVP match/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Kim Hildreth is a professional beach volleyball player who lives in Florida — by choice.
Follow her on Instagram at @kim_hildreth and click here to learn more about Health Coaching With Kim.

A couple of weeks ago, my good friend and the amazing writer Travis Mewhirter took a trip back to Florida as — in his own words — he has “wondered whether California was the right place for us” (meaning for him and his wife Delaney).  

Regrettably for Travis, he only experienced the “wild” part of Florida … describing our culture as “loud, loose, and wild in the best of ways.”

Citing his article (found here) so you know what I’m talking about, here was his experience in Florida:

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.

Unfortunately for you Travis, you had a very limited experience in your short time here in Florida. Since I’m a fan of your family and your writing, I thought I’d have some fun taking the time to explain to you what you missed. 

So, I’m here to tell you about the REAL culture of Florida volleyball — from someone who started as an outsider, a Midwestern girl from Novi, Michigan, looking to pursue her volleyball dreams.

In 2013 I graduated from Eastern Michigan University. I had already had my first taste of real beach volleyball as in the summer of 2012, when I was going into my senior year of indoor, when I was selected to train with the U26 USAV Beach training team on a one-off tryout in Chicago with my best friend and ridiculously talented indoor teammate Rachel Iaquaniello.

We were complete and utter newbies to the sport, and actually thought that after we were selected to the team, which trains in “Manhattan” (that’s literally all the email said) that we would be headed to New York City to train for the summer … yeah, yeah, I know like I said, newbies. 

Once we got our directions straight and with only one week until training started, Rachel and I made some quick arrangements and set out to spend a month in Southern California to train with USA Beach Volleyball, play some CBVA tournaments and compete in the USA 26U tournament in July. 

Rachel and I showed up in Cali with very little information (probably due to some of our own naïveté). We didn’t totally know where and when practices were, what was expected of us, or have any friends or acquaintances in the program. 

Thank goodness I brought my own friend to the training, because showing up was incredibly intimidating to a nobody like me — and my first experience in California really put me off to the culture that exists there. Not once did I feel like I belonged, was wanted there, or even that anyone cared to just include the Midwestern girls in any kind of activities. 

From an outsider, the California culture is clickish. Everyone has their “circles” and the privilege of being asked to train with better players is incredibly coveted and seems like quite literally a rite of passage. If “so and so” asked you to train, it ups your level and status in the community, not only volleyball wise but socially as well. 

This was my real-lived experience and the perspective of many others who have moved to L.A. to try to “make it” in beach volleyball. That being said, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. There are absolutely players who do not fit this mold or partake in this culture. 

After my first California experience, I chose to move to Florida and take my fifth year of eligibility with the beach program at the University of North Florida.

As a total nobody, UNF took me in on their team and allowed me to be a part of an incredible season, where I even got the opportunity to compete at the AVCA pairs national championship. After my one quick season in Jacksonville Beach, I moved to Tampa to work at the University of South Florida — and this was when I really started to experience the real Florida beach volleyball scene.

If I had to pick one word to describe the beach volleyball culture in Florida, it would be welcoming. 

I literally knew no one when I first moved to Tampa. The day I was scheduled to move, I quite literally cried because I thought it was the wrong decision and I should be moving to California to try to play beach volleyball.

But frankly, I couldn’t afford to move to Cali. My parents raised me to take my financial security seriously, and to never live beyond my means, so that meant moving to Florida. I could afford to live in Tampa, I had a job, and I knew there was good volleyball there. 

When I got to Tampa, I immediately met an incredibly welcoming volleyball community. I figured out when the first tournament was, showed up, and everyone was so cool. I quickly realized that while everyone has their friend groups, everyone also hangs out with everyone for the most part.

Kim Hildreth and Brook Bauer after winning a tournament in Pompano Beach in 2017

Yes, in Florida people like to party. For that matter, our players parties are pretty awesome. Why? Because everyone goes! Why wouldn’t you? Everyone wants you to go, everyone’s included, and as a player you’ll usually get a free beer from the tournament and at least one Rumple Minze shot from one of a few players that Travis probably hung out with. In one of my first weekends playing in a Florida beach volleyball tournament, I played women’s open on Saturday and stayed and played coed with everyone on Sunday and even met my future husband this way. 

Beyond the players parties, there’s a real feeling of support from the volleyball community in Florida. We’re all in it together. If there’s a tournament in St Pete where I live, you’d better believe there’s gonna be couch surfers spending the weekend. Whenever I travel around the state to play, it’s almost a given that other players — your literal opponents — will open their doors for you to stay with them for the weekend. 

I’ll never forget one of my first tournaments in Pompano Beach playing in an always heated final against the extremely talented Megan Rice in a Dig the Beach (including her mom and boyfriend heckling the heck outta me), then heading home with her to stay at her house, only to be woken up by her Dad bursting into my room in the morning telling me it’s time to get up for the Sunday morning family breakfast he cooked us. 

That is Florida. 

The community goes beyond just the tournaments. Everyone trains with everyone here. I have trained with AA and Open girls and guys regularly. I actually completely disagree with the need that people feel in Cali to train with the best. I’ve had a lot of success training with anyone and everyone. How? Because you learn to hold yourself to a certain standard, regardless of who’s on the other side of the net from you. 

We live here because we have families here and because the volleyball community became family to us. We live here because we can train five days a week, have a full-time job, buy a house, and retire from that job one day. We live here because its warm always! We live here because we can compete multiple times a month. There’s quite literally a tournament almost every single weekend somewhere in the state of Florida. 

Kim Hildreth and Aurora Davis celebrate a Dig the Beach victory in Florida

You have Aurora Davis, who coaches with her husband, lives close to her entire extended family, and who gets great training and will play as long as her body allows. 

You have Bree Scarborough, who had her best season on the FIVB (winning a gold medal!) and AVP so far while in school full-time for her doctorate in physical therapy, and now is Dr. Bree working at Tampa General Hospital. 

You have Kaya and Piotr Marciniak, running their own beach volleyball academy, owning a home, and raising their son while still both training every week and competing at the highest level. 

You have Megan Rice, who holds a job as a full-time engineer, made an AVP final, and bought a house near her parents in South Florida in the same year at the age of 26. 

There’s Pri Lima who’s now in her 40s, coaching beach every single day at her club, still competing at least one weekend a month, coaching collegiately with her wife at Eckerd, and still making main draws and top-10 finishes on the AVP tour. 

The culture of beach volleyball in Florida is one that cares. The people here will literally give you the shirt off their back, invite you into their homes, buy you a beer after you kick their butt or they kick yours at a tournament, and do everything they can to support you and your career. 

Florida is so far from “wild,” “trash talking,” and “loose.”

So … 

Florida is stability. California is risky.

Florida is a freedom and room to grow. California is pressure and expectations.

Florida is community. California is find your own way.

Florida is my family. California is cool and always fun, but it could never be home for me. 

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