Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter’s book, Volleyball for Milkshakes, was released Wednesday! You can buy it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and soon, you’ll be able to listen to it as well! Thank you always for supporting the hosts of SANDCAST!
When I was 23 years old, I was in the final stages of a four-interview process with the Northwest Florida Daily News. This one, the final phase — fingers crossed! — was with the publisher, Skip Foster. He wanted to know my long-term plans for my career, how the Daily News could help me climb the ladder.
I’d been waiting for that question. I’d been preparing the answer virtually my whole life, when I came to realize at a fairly young age that I loved writing, and I loved sports, and I really loved it when I got paid American dollars to combine the two. So I unrolled the answer I’d been rehearsing for years: Write preps for a few years, cut my teeth on a small college beat, work my way up to covering football and basketball for a major university. Sports Illustrated would notice my fine work and call, and I’d write features alongside greats like Chris Ballard, Tom Verducci, Steve Rushin. Along the way, of course, I’d write a few books, because we aren’t beholden to the standard 24 in the fantasy lands of long-term plans.
Not once did I mention the phrase “beach volleyball.”
A few years prior and thousands of miles across the country, Tri Bourne had to answer a similar inquiry. He was applying to the University of Southern California. An essay prompt on the application asked why he wanted to go there, and how USC could help him achieve whatever career goals he had. Bourne’s buddy, Riley McKibbin, the one who got him scouted in the first place, left Bourne alone in his room for an hour to write his answer. When he returned, he found Bourne, proudly trumpeting his lone sentence, about how his dad ran triathlons.
“Bra!” Riley remembers yelling at Tri when he read that. “I left you in here for an hour!”
McKibbin decided just to write the thing for him.
Not once did the thought cross either Hawai’ian’s mind that Bourne would be an author one day.
It’s a fun exercise, to trace our winding, nomadic life paths backwards, reviewing the nonsensical routes they have taken to get us where we are in this very moment. Four years after my interview with Foster, I qualified for AVP Austin, becoming, at least in name, a professional beach volleyball player. About a decade after McKibbin ghost-wrote Bourne’s application essay, Bourne, as of today, is an author.
Who woulda guessed?
Our book, Volleyball for Milkshakes, is officially on sale. You can find it the easiest on Amazon, and soon the audio version will be for sale as well (it is currently being reviewed by Amazon).
It isn’t the first book in which Bourne’s writing has appeared. That came in the forward of my book, We Were Kings, which I’d like to think has altered both of our life paths for the better. Bourne was the first interview I did for that book. He was in Toronto, on his way to taking bronze at the World Tour Finals in 2016. We spoke on the phone for a little more than an hour, and over the course of the next several months, our names circled one another on a regular basis, me tracking Bourne’s beach career, Bourne occasionally seeing snippets of my burgeoning hobby of writing on beach volleyball.
When his autoimmune disease ruled him out for 2017 and most of the 2018 seasons, he pitched the idea to me about launching a podcast. I’d bring the journalistic skillset, he’d bring the conversational side of the sport.
A little less than three years later, it’s still working out quite well, I think.
A year into us recording SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, he wrote the forward for We Were Kings. It seemed to get Bourne over a mental hurdle of sorts, almost as if it took him seeing physical proof to convince himself that, yes, he could string a few words together, and they’d read just fine. Ever since, we’d been discussing the idea of doing a book together. We just didn’t know exactly on what — non-fiction? Biography? Fiction?
Then his wife, the lovely Gabby Bourne, got pregnant.
What if we wrote something he could read to his daughter?
With that concept in mind, the initial idea was for Volleyball for Milkshakes to be a children’s book — big pictures, a few words on every page, something easy and light. We made a rough outline, basing the story around Tri’s childhood in Hawai’i at the Outrigger Canoe Club, where he and his buddies — you know them by now: Trevor and Taylor Crabb, Maddison and Riley McKibbin, Brad Lawson, Spencer McLachlin, Nick Castello — would bet milkshakes on their matches on the famed Baby Court.
All was well, until I got stuck in the Moscow airport for a day.
If you are ever in need of good writing fuel, get stuck in an airport in which you can’t leave, because you forgot to get a visa. Sneak into a business lounge, hang out for 18 hours, refill that coffee cup as much as you’d like, throw in a beer and the occasional glass of red and see where it takes you.
I got a bit carried away (every editor I’ve ever had can relate, including the one who combed over this story).
Our children’s book quickly morphed into a chapter book, fit for elementary- and middle school-aged kids. To get a feel for the proper voice for the audience, I put a pause on my writing and tore through C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, attempting to learn and emulate his writing style best I could.
In a few months, we had our first draft.
It left another question: What about the cover? The interior?
Around the same time I was interviewing for the job at the Daily News, Nicolette Martin was establishing herself as a freshman standout on the dynastic USC beach volleyball team. She went 30-5 that first year, mostly with Allie Wheeler. Off the beach, she had shown quite a knack for her artistry, having her work featured at Artletics, an art show of sorts for Trojan athletes. She was working towards a major in Fine Arts, with designs to one day have a career with Disney Animation.
Her career in art and beach ascended in parallel. She’d win three National Championships at USC, and the AVP would soon give her space for an art booth at its events. Bourne and I had Martin on the podcast almost two years ago to the day.
The question of who should illustrate was a no-brainer.
It is Martin’s art you’ll see on the front and back cover and on every chapter head. It is both mine and Bourne’s writing you’ll see in the words. It is Kim Smith’s editing you’ll see throughout, keeping my often windy and hard to read copy somewhat legible.
The glue that connected this eclectic group of a crabcake-loving writer, Hawai’ian freak athlete, Southern California artist, and Indianapolis-grown AVP staff writer, is beach volleyball.
So sorry, Mr. Foster, I suppose my answer to your question seven or so years ago was a touch off the mark. I really did have the best laid plans.
Beach volleyball just had better ones for me. It had better plans for all of us.