SANDCAST: Ed Keller, beach volleyball’s walking (probably running), talking, encyclopedic superfan

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Ed Keller-Casey Patterson-Chase Budinger-SANDCAST

Don’t stop him. Not when he’s rolling. And Ed Keller is, well, Ed’s always rolling.

It doesn’t take much — a name, a match, hell, a year would do just fine, because you remember 1996 right? That’s the year Ed thinks is the pinnacle of the old generation of the AVP, when Kent Steffes was at the height of his powers, Karch Kiraly and Sinjin Smith were still jawing at one another, and Mike Whitmarsh — Mike Whitmarsh! — was on the scene, the revolutionary blocker who proved that you could be 6-foot-7 and win on a big court.

But while we’re on the topic of revolutions, look what’s going on today, with all these guys jump-setting and optioning, and how about those Latvians, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins — he’s what, 6-foot-2, maybe 6-foot-3? — showing that you don’t need to be all that big to win at the game’s highest level, but geeze, how can they hang with those Norwegians, Christian Sorum and Anders Mol, whose father has engineered a pipeline of beach volleyball talent and, actually, when Ed thinks about it, that’s exactly what Samoilovs’ dad did in Latvia — and hey, have you seen the Latvian women, Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka, in Hermosa lately? They’re training here, with Graudina back at USC, and wow, they look good.

This is what it is to talk beach volleyball with Edward Keller. It is a constant stream of consciousness, one long, delightful run-on sentence without a single breath taken or pause. The mention of one name will take him — and you, the listener — deep down a magnificent beach volleyball rabbit hole. You have no idea where you’ll end up, and neither, probably, does he, but it’s possible that there is nobody alive on this planet who knows more about beach volleyball, its players, and the history, than Keller does.

Which is why we had him on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

Every sport has its nuts. Beach volleyball simply has fewer. It’s not uncommon for football or baseball fans to discuss the names and histories and specific games of their respective teams in the divey bars over beers and wings. But in beach volleyball, those individuals come few and far between.

Who else, for instance, can begin a sentence talking about Mike Lambert and finish it by telling you about how Adam Jewell was a pitcher out of South High in Torrance, California, and had the best post-bounce celebration of anybody in beach volleyball?

Keller knew, since he was a kid, that he loved watching beach volleyball. Despite describing himself as “never more than a mediocre player,” Keller, the CEO of Smart Science Education, “loved watching volleyball my whole life, and I’m just always trying to figure out ways that I can go and watch more amazing volleyball.”

In the ‘90s, after graduating from Brown with a degree in physics, Keller would spend his weekends traveling up and down the coast with a teenager who had quads “the size of hams” named Sean Rosenthal. He even got his AAA with Rosie, at a tournament in Corona del Mar. But when Rosenthal began traveling on the FIVB, Keller figured what the heck, he’d travel with him there, too.

Ed Keller-Sean Rosenthal
Ed Keller and a young Sean Rosenthal, getting Ed’s AAA rating when Rosie was a teenager.

His record isn’t great as a traveling “coach” — Rosenthal and Larry Witt lost in the first round of a country quota in Rio de Janeiro in 2003 — but Keller was hooked. They stayed at a hostel in El Salvador, and “we were watching all these amazing teams,” Keller said. “Stein Metzger was playing with Dax (Holdren), Eric (Fonoimoana) was playing with Kevin Wong. Going to an international event, that changed everything for me.”

Thus was born the fan beach volleyball both deserved and needed. He’s traveled everywhere, Keller, becoming the unusual type of individual who is both vegan and also loves going to China, even when not a single player or coach interviewed on this podcast will ever admit to loving, or even moderately enjoying, trips to China. He’s taken trips to Rome, such as the time in 2011, for the World Championships, when he flew into Barcelona, rented a car, and drove up the coast, only to discover that there’s no parking anywhere in Rome, but his wife, Amy — the two are expecting — told the parking attendant at the site that Keller was a player. The guy didn’t speak a lick of English, so he let the Kellers through, and Ed just parked there the entire weekend, becoming a part of the event.

Ed Keller
You can find Ed at virtually any beach volleyball tournament around the world.

But he’s more than a fanboy, Ed. He’s a math whiz and beach volleyball connoisseur, another unusual combination in this sport, with its complex and convoluted points and ranking systems that few, especially the players, fully understand. Players will reach out to Ed to see where they stand in the Olympic race, who is dropping what finish, what they need to do to qualify, to jump the team in front of them or stave off the one on their heels.

He doesn’t ask anything in return of these players. Doesn’t need special treatment from his good friends, Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger, when he goes to watch them play in Doha, for example, as he does. He, like his next door neighbor at 16th Street, Greg Delgado, is just enamored with beach volleyball, and will do whatever he can to watch more of it, to be around more of it.

“I can’t understand,” Keller says, “why more people don’t fall in love with watching volleyball.”

If anybody is up for the job, it’s Keller. Just wind him up and let him go, deep down the rabbit hole of beach volleyball’s greatest hits.

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