SANDCAST: Mark Burik, the need for adventuring, and power of ripple effects

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AVP Seattle 2019 Saturday-Mark Burik
Mark Burik reaches for the jump serve/Stephen Burns, Pacific Northwest Photography

Mark Burik tried it. You will notice that to be a theme of his life: The man just tries everything. In this case, a young Burik was trying his best, as a freshman at the University of Delaware, to sell his father on a month-long semester in New Zealand. His father balked.

Fourteen-thousand bucks? What was Mark going to learn in New Zealand that could possibly be worth $14,000?

Well, Mark replied, we’re going to go zorbing.

If you’re wondering what in the world zorbing is, allow Burik a moment to explain.

“It’s when you get put in a clear bubble and they send you rolling down a hill,” he said matter of factly on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

So, no, Mr. Burik was not going to hand his son a $14,000 check to go zorbing in New Zealand. But he did have faith that Mark would find his way to New Zealand at some point, and he’d get to go zorbing or bungee jumping or hopping off of bridges or whatever else he would do — and studying was likely not one of them — on his own dime.

“Once I got the volleyball bug,” Burik said, “I knew I was going to take it as far as I can.”

He means far in every possible sense of the word. Physically, he has gone quite far, to the point that when his longtime girlfriend, Janell Haney, suggests what could be a fun overseas trip for the two, Burik will reply, “Oh yeah, that place is fun.” And then she’ll get frustrated, because she wants to go somewhere new, but finding a new place in the world for Burik to travel is quite a difficult endeavor these days.

He’s gone bungee jumping in New Zealand. Played on the national tours in Austria, France, Norway, and Sweden. He’s run volley camps in Germany, Spain, Switzerland. He’s flown in helicopters in Rio, been discouraged at the state of an FIVB one-star in Cambodia.

“I’ve just had trouble saying no to tournaments and saying no to an adventure or trip,” Burik said. “It’s too much fun. There’s too much world to go and see to say ‘No.’ And if volleyball is either your ticket or your excuse, why not?

“I think I love the fact that even if I’m going somewhere to travel, I’ll hunt down my local volleyball contacts, because if you’ve got a sport like volleyball, and you’re pretty good at it, you have built-in friends wherever you go. You don’t even have to do all the tourism stuff and wonder where you have to go because your built-in friends will bring you.”

Burik now is one of those volleyball contacts for players all around the world who are looking for a place to play or train or build a community at any time of the year. Five years ago, Burik founded VolleyCamp Hermosa, a now-booming and wildly popular adult camp of sorts for players of all skills and ages.

He founded it, of course, on some of the most ridiculous premises. He wanted it to be a volley hostel, where he’d find all of the broke and hungry 20-somethings in the sport, give them a bunk to crash in, a court to play on, and a bunch of guys to play with, and let it run wild. It worked for a bit. Burik rented three apartments, squeezing in four bunk-beds in the master bedroom of one.

“It was so much fun and so crazy,” Burik said. “I was cleaning toilets at 3 a.m. getting ready for the next turnover.”

To the surprise of perhaps only Burik, he was evicted from one of his houses – “I did it all legally,” he is adamant to assure you – and has since sent the VolleyCampers to local hotels, where he does not have to clean toilets at three in the morning. Though the hostel vision for VolleyCamp has since changed, the impact of it has only multiplied. Rare is the day you will not see Burik and his coaching staff on 2nd Street in Hermosa, teaching from sun-up to sundown, VolleyCampers rotating in and out of the courts the entire day, all year long.

“It’s gotten to a point where it runs itself,” Burik said. This has allowed him to expand into other projects, all in the name of growing the sport. He’s building a YouTube channel, Betteratbeach, with an eponymous website, betteratbeach.com. He’s authoring webinars, conducting film studies with players from all over the planet via FaceTime and screenshare.

“If you get one, solid piece of advice from one great coach, that’s going to affect the rest of your career,” Burik said. “People think one piece of advice is just one piece of advice but it’s not. It’s thousands of points.”

But it’s not just about improving as a player. It’s about building up this sport that has for so long needed a growth spurt. It’s about building the community that allows players to grab dinners with strangers in Austria, to crash on a couch in Rio, to know the best local spots in Spain, with the only connecting thread being the sport of beach volleyball.

“It goes beyond beach volleyball for me,” Burik said. “It’s about getting a platform. My why is more — get the platform to start making the world better. I think I do that successfully with my coaching. I think I teach people how to be better partners, how to talk to each other better. I teach them how to talk to their partners, similar to how they talk to their wife or girlfriend. You don’t want to nag, you know? You want to build each other up. In the end, my why is about getting a platform and helping, even a couple people. It’ll make their lives a little bit easier.”

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