I’ll always remember the first interview. It was September of 2016. I was sitting on my bed in my studio in Newport Beach. That bed also doubled as my office, seeing as my apartment was roughly 600 square feet and had room for a bed, kitchen, and TV, all within arm’s length of each other. On the other end of the phone was Tri Bourne — Tri Bourne! The guy I watched roof John Mayer on match point of the 2015 AVP Huntington Beach Open on the first weekend I had moved to California. The guy I had dug deep into YouTube to watch virtually every snippet of film I could find. That Tri Bourne.
And for an hour and a half, Tri talked about whatever it was that I wanted to talk about.
You’re writing a book? Cool. What’s it on?
It was a great question at the time, and it remained a great question over the next two years. The umbrella topic was easy enough: It was on beach volleyball. It was on beach volleyball because when I had first picked up the game at a bar in Florida called Juana’s Pagodas, I had done what all good nerds do when assuming a new hobby: I went to Amazon and ordered every piece of literature I could on the topic.
Which was next to nothing. There were drill books, sure, and instructional stuff. But I wanted to know about the game. I wanted its history, in all its rich detail. I wanted to know the players, the people, the events. I wanted to know everything.
Only, in book form, there wasn’t much of anything to know. So my second interview was with a man named Kevin Cleary. My good friend, John Braunstein, sort of set that one up. He was one of the first guys I started practicing with when I moved here, and when told him I was working on writing a book o beach volleyball, he said Cleary was a guy I needed to talk to. So I sent Cleary a message on Facebook, waited a month or two for a reply, and when he did, we decided to play a AA CBVA in Manhattan Beach together. It wound up being an all-day affair, Cleary regaling me tales of beach volleyball’s past, how he became the AVP’s first president, how the AVP was formed in protest of rule changes, how things were done in the old-school days.
Slowly, I began picking the contact lists of Bourne and Cleary. From Bourne’s list, I was digging into the modern player; from Cleary’s, the first generation of professionals. In a single week, I’d speak to Sinjin Smith and Carl Henkel, the 1996 Olympic team and the cause of the original AVP vs. the FIVB controversy, and also Trevor and Taylor Crabb. I’d talk to Karch Kiraly and Tim Hovland, followed up by Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb — the legends of past and present.
Within a year, I had interviewed more than 100 players across various generations of beach volleyball, and when I sat down to look over the roughly 800 pages of notes, I still had absolutely no clue where to begin or what, exactly, I was doing with all of this information, which was pure, untainted beach volleyball gold.
Becoming a player helped clarify that.
To be clear, my name, in the context of playing beach volleyball, should not be mentioned in the same sentence as men like Bourne, Patterson, Gibb, Dalhausser, Lucena, all of whom have enormous roles in the book. But becoming a player, experiencing the wondrous grind of working up the ranks in beach volleyball as it stands today, illuminated exactly the project I wanted to publish: Why in the world do people spend so much time, energy and money and sacrifice so much of themselves to play beach volleyball?
Financially, it makes no sense. The term fiscal responsibility is a paradox when spoken of in the realm of beach volleyball. In the mid-to-later playing days of Kiraly, Dodd, Smith, Stoklos — all the names you’ll see in the CBVA Hall of Fame — it wasn’t so incomprehensible, to be financially stable and a beach volleyball player. They could gross half a million in a single year.
But over the years, with the AVP changing hands so frequently, from Leonard Armato to Jeff Dankworth to Jerry Solomon to Armato to Donald Sun with various hedge funds and financial institutions subbing intermittently in between, the game has struggled to find a firm footing. As such, it’s struggled to provide the type of consistency that its athletes could live off of, all of which served to create two fascinating questions for me: How do men even stumble into this game, and why do they continue to do it?
I sent my first manuscript, a 120,000-word monster of a thing, to my wizard editor lady, Ann Maynard, who has overseen a number of New York Times bestsellers. The content was great, she said, and the stories captivating. But I covered too much ground too fast. She felt like she was in a literary drag race that was at once exhilarating and severely confusing. She gave me two options: Pick half the book and focus only on that, repurposing the other material for blogs, stories, magazines, whatever. Or just split the book in two — one digging into the modern player, the other detailing beach volleyball’s ascent to becoming an Olympic sport.
It made sense to publish the former option first, seeing as the information was going to be dated very quickly, while the latter, being historical, has no expiration date or need for expediency. So the next year, that’s what I set out to do, separating the information, outlining, outlining again, outlining one more time, then another, before sending it back to Ann.
We settled on a structure, with each chapter being a stop in the 2016 season, each stop digging into a different facet of the game — the difficulty of qualifying, the difficulty of qualifying enough to be a consistent main draw player, the difficulty of sustaining being a main draw player while also holding enough side jobs to stay afloat, the difficulty of sustaining being a main draw player while also holding enough side jobs to stay afloat while also attempting to raise a family. Each chapter adds another layer, another dynamic of this game that, to me, is nothing short of fascinating.
Throughout, you’ll read the stories of men who are at the top and the bottom, of the Dalhaussers of the world and the Chris Luerses — the legends and the perpetual qualifiers. You’ll read about men who have made it and men who are still trying and might never actually do it. And you’ll read about why — why they continue going for it, despite so much suggesting they should do otherwise, why they love the game that so rarely loves them back in any tangible way.
Why they continue to push for just one more day at the beach.