Age? No problem. The keys from older players who still compete hard in beach volleyball

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Older beach players 3/30/2020-John Hyden
John Hyden digs at the 2020 Dinosaur/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

I’m 59. Yeah, 6-0 looms large.

But I still get out on the sand pretty often. My beach volleyball at this age is more of a “run and go get it” style, more resembling a “pokey” fight than the potent spike of yesteryear.  

A couple of weekends ago in Hawai’i at the Dinosaur tournament, it seemed like a number of folks have “cheated” age. They play with skill and athleticism beyond what their numerical age might suggest. 

What’s the key? 

I interviewed four players about their fitness and diet practices and examined their success stories for something that I might be able to incorporate into my own life and improve my level of fitness and skill. The four players: 

— John Hyden, who at 47 is still at the pinnacle of the game, breaking the record for the oldest person to win an AVP event (Hermosa Beach in 2018 at age 45) and FIVB World Tour event (Berlin in 2014 at age 41). 

— Eric Fonoimoana, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist, who came out of retirement at age 49 to finish 15th in 2018 with Jeremy Casebeer at AVP Hermosa Beach, and who’s thought to be the oldest player to win an AVP main-draw match. At the Dinosaur, he battled out of the losers bracket with Clint Coe to finish second.

— Wayne Kekina, who is my new hero. Wayne is still out there at age 78, planning to defend his gold medal in the 70s division at the 2021 World Games in Kansai, Japan, with Chris Crabb.

— And Bea Graves, at 64 the oldest woman in the Dinosaur draw, who won the new 100s division.

John Hyden
“I know my body,” he said. “I know my body really well, when I need to push it, when I need to sit down, if I need a day or two break, if I need to hit it hard, the aches and pains.

“I know what to eat. I know that if I eat sugar, I feel it in my joints the next day.

“There’s stuff out there that I’ve been able to learn about my body the last 15 years. Things come out new all the time. Eggs are good, eggs are bad. Ice is good, ice is bad. 

“Do this, don’t do that stretching. Whatever it is. And I’ve done it all, so I know what works for my body. 

“You may tell me that ice is bad, but I feel great when I ice. Especially when I ice bath.

 “I’m not going to change that. I’ve lived it all of my life, I’ve been through it, I can tell you through experience the things that most people have no idea. 

“This is what got me through, and it may help you. Not everyone is the same, but I don’t necessarily buy into the new fads, the new diets, the new this, the new that. If you just stay straight and do what works for you, you’ll be fine. That’s how I’ve always been.”

Hyden said he needs to stay warm to avoid injury and maintain peak performance. He is currently involved in building the Hyden Training Academy in Franklin, Tennessee, a beach facility that will have six outdoor and two indoor courts. It can be very cold in the winter in Franklin, Tennessee.

“I have to heat up a lot. I take hot showers, and sometimes I use artificial heat on my back or knees, quads, whatever it is. There’s a lot of getting ready for the game that people don’t see.

“One of our first purchases was a spa at our house. If I’m training in the morning, I’ll roll out of bed, put my shorts on, and get in the spa for 10 minutes. Heat up the body, and now I’m ready. 

“If I don’t do that, there is a process to me getting warm. It’s like a super-old car, you’ve got to warm it up, and get it ready to go before you hit the gas.

 As with nearly all professional athletes, diet takes center stage for Hyden.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into me being healthy. People ask, ‘what do you do, what do you take?’ There’s like 30 different things, and you can’t pinpoint one, because I don’t know exactly what works. You have to do all 30 of them (laughs). I just keep on that, everything that works.”

Hyden also gives a lot of credit to his trainer, Mykel Jenkins, who has worked with him for more than 15 years. He credited Jenkins for his longevity in a previous interview in 2017: 

“If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. He’s the smartest trainer I know. He does all of his own research: medical journals, he’s always trying to learn more, between nutrition and weight training. He always comes up with the latest things to do. 

“We’re ahead of the game so far on so many issues. He could have been a cajillion-aire, for example, we were working with something similar to a shake weight before that came out. He just thinks stuff up in his gym and we do it. He thinks of every little possibility. If I’m injured in one way, then he finds a different way to approach training. If my back is injured, then we’ll find a different way to get things done. He’s always ahead of the game somehow.

“From the time I got with him in 2005 until now, I’ve just trusted him. He’s always on top of the supplements, he’s on top of all of the nutrition, from day one he said, ‘You shouldn’t have to think of anything in the gym, or anything nutrition-wise. I’ll do all that for you. You just think about what you need to do on the beach.’

Older beach players 3/30/2020-Eric Fonoimoana
Eric Fonoimoana celebrates during the 2020 Dinosaur finals/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Eric Fonoimoana
Fonoimoana is still in ridiculously good shape. His nickname while on the tour: “The Body,” a moniker that is still quite apt. He cites two keys: eating light and staying active.

Staying active includes volleyball, surfing, yoga, golf, and weights. His volleyball is somewhat limited by a lack of cartilage in his knee, but he plays once or twice a week.

“I work out with my girlfriend (Lisa Newman) at least once a week. If the waves are good, I do that, and I have a couple of regular games that I play in. I stay active as much as I can.”

Fonoimoana certainly is active, coaching at famed Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, as well as the Elite Beach Club. He practices portion control and takes the attitude that “food is fuel,” typically choosing to start off the day with a protein shake. He said he eats smaller portions and red meat about once a month, preferring fish and chicken. He also practices intermittent fasting.

“I don’t eat big meals. Most of the time I share a meal with my girlfriend, we share a plate for dinner, but for me, food is more about the fuel part. I eat because I should eat. I probably don’t eat enough, that’s one of my downfalls, but I’m not exercising enough to eat all that.”

Wayne Kekina
Kekina was born in 1942, during the throes of World War II. The 5-foot-10 lefty turned 78 in December, and although his offense isn’t as potent as it was, his defense and ball control are still solid. Solid enough to earn two medals in the 2017 World Games: Gold in the 70s and silver in the 65s with Chris Crabb, despite giving up a number of years to his competitors. Kekina took up beach volleyball in his 30s, and estimates that he has played in more than 15 Dinosaur tournaments.

Kekina’s formula? 

“Keeping an active lifestyle, and keeping a well-rounded lifestyle between volleyball, stand-up paddling, yoga, and weights. You have to change up the sports.”

At 78, recovering from injuries is a big key.

“At my age, you have to stay physically fit and keep a good attitude. You have to keep bouncing back. If you keep your weight pretty steady you can stay nice and healthy that way.”

Kekina watches what he eats and also practices portion control, eating more fish and less meat.

“I try and get two regular meals a day, and keep my third meal very light, usually just a salad for dinner.”

Older beach players 3/30/2020-Wayne Kekina
Wayne Kekina runs down a ball/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Bea Graves
Graves, who turned 64 just before the 2020 Dinosaur, has played volleyball since she was 10. She helped run the Arizona Outdoor Volleyball Association (AOVA) for a few years in the 1990s, and even earned a men’s open rating in Arizona in 1990.

“What I’ve found is that I can get to a ball just about as fast as I ever have. It’s the getting up that’s harder. And of course, I don’t jump nearly as high as I used to.”

Graves said she needs to play more than she used to in order to maintain fitness. 

“I have to play five times a week to be in my best shape, where previously I might only have to play three times a week.”

Graves also espouses a “food is fuel” attitude like Fonoimoana. What’s more, she doesn’t eat between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“Not getting caught up in just food is a key thing, because as you get older you tend to eat more and you’re not as busy. I make it a point to stay busy.”

Older beach players 3/30/2020-Bea Graves
Bea Graves digs during the 100s division finals/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

4 COMMENTS

  1. The untold takeaway from this story is that you should probably play beach volleyball and not indoor if you want to put the “lifelong” in lifelong sports, the way everyone talks about tennis and, um, cycling…? I definitely am not getting out on the hardwood at these ages and pounding away!

  2. I still love playing volleyball. I like to play against the 30 and 40-year-olds but I have to be warmed up before competing. I often let the first few shots drop until I’m warm. Good Stuff Ed! For the love of the game!

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