Reid Priddy has experienced one of the most decorated indoor careers in American volleyball history, spanning four Olympics from 2004-2016, including a gold medal in Beijing in 2008 and bronze last year in Rio.
His conversion to beach volleyball for a medal run towards Tokyo 2020 is one of the biggest beach stories of the year. As the end of the 2017 season approaches, Priddy has made some compelling arguments for newcomer of the year, with a third at AVP San Francisco with Ricardo Santos and a fifth at AVP Austin with Maddison McKibbin.
But the 39-year-old has also experienced a bumpy ride, failing to qualify at AVP Huntington Beach with Chaim Schalk, and forfeiting in seventh place at AVP Hermosa Beach with Santos.
The odds are stacked against Priddy, as he faces two major obstacles. First, he must battle Father Time, as he will be 43 in Tokyo. Second, he is a relative neophyte to his new sport of beach volleyball. Before this year, he had not competed in the sand since 2009.
Priddy calls his journey an attempt to “hack beach volleyball,” that is, develop skills and experience as quickly as possible. To this end, he has assembled a team around him including beach great Todd Rogers, athletic trainer Misao Tanioka, and data analyst Joe Trinsey.
Priddy, who has a communication studies degree from Loyola Marymount, released a 10-minute video Monday. Priddy’s objective was to communicate with fans of beach volleyball.
“The overarching target is to start communicating on a real time basis with the volleyball community and not necessarily waiting for network coverage to create that communication opportunity,” Priddy said.” With technology and being so cheap, relatively speaking, media and cameras, the opportunity to connect with a community is instantaneous.
“My entire career in volleyball, there’s always been this sense of ‘Man, we’re getting parts of matches, and tape delays, it’s hard to access,’ and all these things, and I feel like for those reasons, it’s very difficult to be an engaged fan.
“Whenever I hear the conversation develop about how volleyball needs to be bigger, or it should be bigger, and start comparing it to other professional sports, I try to divert the conversation to say ‘Well, let’s start by aggregating the volleyball community, because right now, it’s fragmented, it’s spread out.’ The players, and those who play the game on a regular basis, really don’t have access to the sport unless they really, really dig.”
Priddy plans to release a series of videos to reach beach volleyball fans, and reach beyond his own story.
“I’m starting with me, because that’s what I have control over. But for me, I would love to build something that can point the cameras and the focus on other stories.
“There are so many great stories in volleyball, and for this particular show, ‘The Beach Hack,’ I’m sort of setting myself up as the catalyst, but intend to tell hundreds of stories within this one story. With all the different people I work with, it provides the opportunity to tell their story. I’ve been working a lot with the people you saw in the video as well as people you haven’t, like Jose Loiola, his story is epic. He has really been helping me out in my beach game, I would love to hear his story through his own eyes and words. I would love to give him that opportunity.
“That’s what has led us to this point, in releasing this first video, in the hope that there’s a community that loves this concept and idea, and jumps on board and says, ‘We want more, Reid, go make it happen.’”
Priddy assessed his first year back on the beach.
“I didn’t really set expectations for this season. This season was for R & D. Let’s try this on. Let’s take chances, and try different things, and take notes along the way. In that sense, this year has been a tremendous success, because I’ve been able to play with a lot of players, and I’ve been able to be coached by a lot of different coaches.
“I’ve now seen a lot of the events that we’ll see next year, unfortunately, international competition just wasn’t a possibility by virtue of the closed system that it is at the moment, but by and large, we have learned so much. I really feel like every two weeks I’m making a significant improvement. In fact, when I watch the moves that I’m making in that video, I cringe.
“It’s one of those things where there’s been some ups, a lot of downs, but most importantly, there’s been a significant growth curve. The biggest hurdle is just getting the beach timing.”
Less than a year into his transition to beach, Priddy finds that the indoor movement patterns die hard.
“I have sort of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to, I’ve heard it so many times that it’s like nails on a chalkboard, ‘Oh, that’s an indoor move,’ or, ‘He’s moving like an indoor player.’
“My reaction is, ‘What do you expect?’ But putting that aside, I am starting to appreciate the patience that the best of the best beach volleyball players have, the efficiency of movement, and the patience of allowing the play to develop.”
The speed of the game is one of the biggest differences between indoor and beach, according to Priddy.
“Indoors, you get really used to the ball traveling at 75 miles per hour and feeling like you don’t really have an opportunity, that is, the play is almost over before it even starts. I think there’s more meat on the bone there, I really believe that to be able to be great at both, you have to have exposure to both, and to have college indoor teams training on the sand, I think that’s all good stuff, really positive.”
Priddy can appreciate both the highs and the lows of this season.
“For me, the finish that Maddison and I had in Austin, that was really fun, we had to grind through a Saturday. Playing with Ricardo, that was an interesting role reversal for me, he’s a beach player through and through, and just has tremendous experience. We went into that tournament with so many expectations, and then to lose that first match and then have to grind all the way back to matchpoint in the semifinals, and then to lose that, that was the tournament where I feel like I made the biggest jump in terms of the timing aspect and not trying to get ahead of the play.
“In Hermosa, up to that point, things were really coming together, but then he got sick and just couldn’t go, and that’s one of those things in beach volleyball that’s new to experience, there’s no substitutions. If one of you can’t go, you bow out of the tournament.”
Priddy sees the the year as positive, but has plenty of room for improvement.
“I think that all in all, it’s been a really positive year, I don’t think we’ll be satisfied, that’s just not how we’re wired, period. We’re constantly learning and tweaking.”
The biggest question mark for Priddy is the serve.
“For me, the serve is one of those irritating aspects of the game where there’s something within me that’s telling me that that skill is underdeveloped, and should be a stronger weapon, but with all the various elements, it’s just a huge puzzle to try and crack.”
Priddy is eager to continue his quest towards Tokyo, and will partner with Santos in AVP Manhattan August 17-20.
“It doesn’t feel like the end of the season at all. I might spend a few months in Brazil this off-season, I’ve been invited to do some training camps down there with some of the coaches, and potentially play in a few events, so I don’t know if I’ll even take an off season. I feel like I’m ramping into this beach thing, it’s been really fun so far.”