After attending the World Series of Beach Volleyball, I need to come clean about me and beach.
Which is easier said than done, considering all that sand.
After all, the last time I was on a beach covering volleyball, it was on the Redneck Riviera in Gulf Shores, Ala., for the NCAA championship. White, silky sand that brushes off with ease.
Long Beach? Not so much.
But that’s neither here nor there.
OK, so the WSOBV was my first big-time pro beach tournament. Yeah, I covered AVP New Orleans a couple of years ago, but considering all the rain that week and that the players couldn’t get out of there fast enough to get to an FIVB Moscow event — literally doing interviews while jogging to waiting cars — I’m not sure that counts.
So I went to Long Beach.
If you follow VolleyballMag.com, I hope you appreciate that I’m all over indoor volleyball, especially NCAA women and men. My partner, and photographer Ed Chan, is our beach guy.
But since we bought the artist formerly known as Volleyball magazine, I’ve simply had to know beach volleyball. I’ve written and/or edited more than my share of beach stories and have watched countless hours on either TV or livestream. It started with the Rio Olympics, before which I could no more tell you the difference between a Talita and a Walkenhorst than, well, you get the idea.
Sure, I knew the Americans. After all, even the most casual domestic sports fan knows who Kerri Walsh Jennings is. And all joking aside, I pretty much knew most of the Americans and enough about them to fake it.
But back to the Olympics. I literally watched every single volleyball match during that two-week period, which includes not only every women’s and men’s indoor match, but every single one on the beach. My living room had two TVs, a computer, iPad and iPhone all going at once.
Which is why I now know the difference between an Alison and a Herrera.
So as the 2017 season approached, I wanted to learn more and get into the culture of the sport. Osmosis by itself wasn’t enough. A visit last February with Sinjin Smith convinced me that if I was going to make one trip, it should be to WSOBV.
I’m really glad I did and here’s why.
In more years than you could imagine of interviewing athletes, there have been few times that I laughed more than I did when talking to German Olympic gold-medalist Laura Ludwig. The world of sports needs more Laura Ludwigs. She and partner Kira Walkenhorst are a delight.
I loved walking a few yards over from the WSOBV and watching the NVL tournament. Yeah, they’re pros, but it was grass-roots sports at its best. It was great to see our guy, Travis Mewhirter, play. As an added bonus, I got to see Katie Lindelow, the former LSU player, in the NVL semifinals.
The music. Simply put, Jeremy “DJ” Roueche has an incredible feel for the situation and picks all the right tunes. And there were even some songs I’d heard before.
Not the guys on the mic. Yeah, they pump the crowd up, but they’re so bossy. Nothing personal, but they’re always telling people to clap. To stand up. To make noise. To make more noise. DJ was making all the noise we needed.
You really don’t get from watching on TV just how athletic the players are and just how quick and explosive the best ones are.
Nick Lucena, for example, can simply get after it. The Polish men were really impressive. Most men in the sporting world who have never seen the sport, especially up close, simply cannot imagine how athletic Ludwig, Sara Hughes and Larissa are. Larissa is from Brazil, and they go by first names, but beach-volleyball experts like me know her last name is Franca.
Speaking of Larissa, after she and Talita won the gold on Saturday, I interviewed them both and Larissa started answering in her native Portuguese. At first I didn’t know if she thought I understood or she was goofing on me until Talita jumped in with a laugh and said not to worry, that she would translate. To which I said, “Obrigado,” which is thank-you in Portuguese.
I had a really insightful conversation with Phil Dalhausser, one of the topics the crazy travel these athletes endure. Like two weeks ago they were in Europe, nine time zones over, they came to Southern California for a week, and then headed back the next day to Europe nine time zones away. Phil said simply that he just accepts being tired all the time and always in some kind of pain.
Speaking of pain, it almost hurt to watch April Ross playing with her broken right big toe. She and partner Lauren Fendrick are going to have a big finish to the summer as Ross’s toe heals. And you can’t say enough about the youngsters, the aforementioned Hughes and her partner Kelly Claes, delightful kids and fun to watch.
Kerri Walsh Jennings had a tough tournament. But no matter what, after every match, she signs all the autographs and smiles patiently for every photo. I enjoy every time I get to visit with her and also appreciated the time and interviews with her partner, Nicole Branagh.
High fives to Leonard Armato, who puts on the WSOBV, and to Al-B Hannemann, who runs the NVL, and to the AAU for putting a successful and massive juniors tournament.
Armato, by the way, had a pretty surprised look when I told him I did not, in fact, go to the Kaskade concert. But I was amazed to see thousands of his fans lining up and flocking to the stage many hours before the show was going to start.
The tournament ended with a bonus.
On Sunday I finally met Don Patterson, once the editor of Volleyball magazine and who is editor of the beach publication DiG. We shared a lot of stories and had a really good visit. As we were walking out of the tournament together, we went right past the DiG promotional booth, where I saw they had some really excellent T-shirts.
Now I owe Don a VolleyballMag.com T-shirt. Maybe we can take a picture some time wearing each other’s T-shirts.
If I didn’t live in the other LA (Louisiana) I would go this week to AVP Hermosa Beach. Ed, of course, will be there.
And Ed and I will be in Vienna, Austria, for the FIVB World Championships in a couple of weeks.
Your reaction to that might have been the same as some of the players.
Can’t wait. Sand and all.