Robbie Page had a strategy.
He followed it.
And now he’s back on the beach, all 7 feet, 1 inch of him, thanks largely, to the success of his start-up company, Tenzo Tea, which sells matcha green tea.
“I developed a master plan, which was build a successful business, support myself, and then come back and play,” he said.
“Now I’m on phase two.”
Most recently, we saw him at AVPNext in New Orleans, where he played with Hagen Smith. They tied for ninth, which, all things considered, was a step in the right direction for them both.
While Smith is recovering from surgery, Page is coming back from five years off.
His training since he left the AVP in 2016?
“Absolutely nothing,” he said with a laugh.
“I went from like 225 down to like 215, 210, didn’t lift, just went full entrepreneur. Twelve hours a day. It’s funny, but I learned quickly that when you have a reason to work out and train, it’s easy to commit yourself and hit the weight room. But as soon as the goal was gone … ”
“I had a really weird falling out because of how much I love this sport and how it didn’t turn out how I thought it would once I got there. So I didn’t touch a volleyball for three years, literally.”
Which was quite a reversal.
“Volleyball’s always been a dream of mine,” Page said. “In 2008 watching (Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser) win the (Olympic beach) gold, I immediately knew this was the sport I wanted to play the rest of my life.”
Which was a pretty unusual thought for a kid who lived in Rochester, a city in upstate New York with an average of nearly 80 inches of snowfall per year.
“Everybody thought I was crazy to drop basketball to pursue volleyball,” he said. “Rochester is a volleyball town, but New York is a basketball state. So everybody thought I was crazy to go to UCLA to play volleyball.”
The coach who recruited him, the legendary Al Scates, didn’t think so. Page, whose real first name is Robart, played volleyball at Victor High School, which won the 2008 and ’09 New York state titles. Page made the Volleyball magazine Fab 50 list and got in some time in the USA youth national-team gym.
Scates retired after his second year and John Speraw took over at UCLA. Page still ranks No. 9 on the all-time UCLA kills list with 844 for his career from 2011-14, stands No. 7 for kills per set (3.72) for a season, and in 2014 made the Volleyball magazine All-American third team.
Page and Speraw, by the way, are good friends but, he joked,”He was the one coach in the country who never sent me a recruiting letter when he was at UC Irvine.”
After graduating with a degree in behavorial neuroscience — “It has nothing to do with business, but I learned how to learn, that’s for sure” — Page hit the beach and did well from the get-go.
Page, who turns 29 next month, teamed with Jason Lochhead and in 2015 they finished seventh twice on the AVP Tour. He also played with Billy Allen and they got fifth on two occasions. In 2015 Page led the AVP in aces (1.03/set), was eighth in blocks (1.56/set) and ninth in kills (6.42/set).
But as he got into the 2016 season, he realized he didn’t like the financial odds.
“I was playing on the AVP and I was looking for a side project to make money. How can I support this career of mine on the beach finishing with fifth and seventh places for two years and making 14 grand a summer? And you’re losing 10 grand a year. Not a very sustainable way to live. You’re a professional athlete, but you’re losing money. Obviously I respect whoever does it because it’s such a grind.”
That summer of 2016, his last on the tour, his boyhood friend Steve O’Dell dropped out of UCLA and slept on Page’s couch in Long Beach. That’s when they formed Tenzo (tenzotea.co), selling matcha green tea.
“I went from playing full-time beach to working every morning to building a business and competing in the afternoon,” Page said.
The next summer, there were “massive contract negotiations and it just became clear that it didn’t feel right using my energy pursuing volleyball during that period.”
Just like those back home couldn’t understand him giving up basketball for volleyball, even his family questioned giving up volleyball for business.
But Page and O’Dell built Tenzo into something special.
“I knew the timing of it was it would take three to four years. We’ve had a lot of success at Tenzo. We built ourselves like a $20 million dollar business in like four years,” he said, smiling.
“It’s pretty phenomenal.”
And enough to let you get back on the sand.
“Starting a business was like digging the trenches. It was horrible and really hard and stressful. In the last year and a half we’ve gotten into a better stride and rhythm where I feel better and comfortable. I’m still working full-time for Tenzo, quote-unquote, but now it’s more manageable.”
Tenzo, he said, is now a 10-person team. “I’m still managing a lot,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot to handle. Even this morning I was putting in the work. But Tenzo, now we know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. The first three years it was pure chaos.”
Page, who is right-handed, also had surgery on his left shoulder last September after injuring it in a non-volleyball accident. He said it’s fully healed and he’s getting stronger.
“That was a huge stepping stone and I’m getting stronger. I actually built a weight room in my backyard (in Venice Beach) and I’m back to where I’m loving playing again. Before there was a lot of pressure and this unwinnable battle of making a living.”
That’s not a problem, now, since Page is evidently quite well off because of his business success. And while he wants to do well in beach volleyball, he thinks he can use his business knowledge to help the sport.
“One thing I realized when I was playing was that LeBron James put a million dollars into his body every year. Now, if a volleyball player could do the same thing that would be a phenomenal advantage.”
In the short term, he’s hooked up with Smith, the son of Sinjin, who also had a tremendous indoors career at UCLA.
“I’ve always admired Hagen’s passion and determination,” Page said. “It’s always important to me to align yourself with your weaknesses. I always try to do that, like my co-founder Steve and now Hagen. Hagen’s the type of guy who will show up every day and will kick your ass if you show up soft.
“I know I have a lot of potential but sometimes I get a little complacent, so I need someone next to me who will push me and keep me going and going and going.”