SANDCAST: Jon Mesko on thinking deeper and celebrating Festivus

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Jon Mesko-SANDCAST
Jon Mesko/Ed Chan, VBShots.com photo

Jon Mesko sincerely hopes you had a merry Christmas. He really does. He’s no Scrooge or Grinch. But frankly, he’d like to celebrate a holiday popularized in the 90s. He wants you to join him in a “Festivus for the rest of us!”

Those not indoctrinated with the classic Seinfeld episode, allow Frank Costanza, father of George Costanza, to explain.

“At the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you.”

“Is there a tree?”

“No, but there’s a pole. No decorations. I find tinsel distracting.”

“Festivus is back!” Frank declares in the episode that aired on Dec. 18, 1997. He couldn’t have possibly realized that, indeed, 21 years later, it would be back, at Mesko’s new – and popular amongst the beach volleyball crowd – restaurant, Serve on Second.

But does Mesko have any grievances to air? Any long held grudges with the beach volleyball community?

“I’m here to air the grievances for Festivus,” he said, grinning, on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it.”

He said this with a smile, one that suggests he was half-joking, half-serious. If you’ve messed with his nets, or his courts, or his cables, well, you might be getting a grievance from Mesko. He is so particular about the heights of his nets — formerly located on eighth street in Hermosa, now on 35th — that, prior to this year’s Manhattan Beach Open, he went out on center court, measured it, and — aha! He knew it! — the net was an inch low.

“The AVP has historically put it an inch and a half low, and the FIVB has put it an inch to an inch and a half high,” he said. “So what I decided was, ‘I’m going to walk out to the Manhattan Open final, right before Nick (Lucena) and Phil (Dalhausser) played Jake (Gibb) and Taylor (Crabb),’ and it was one inch low, and that’s what the AVP sets it at, and that’s fine, so that’s what I set my net at now. I want to play what AVP, domestic tournaments are playing at.”

It is, among other enviable traits, this borderline OCD attention to detail that has allowed Mesko to be so successful in so many endeavors, and in risky fields — beach volleyball, the restaurant business — too.

“I enjoy just kind of making things a little bit better and improving things,” he said. “When I arrived at eighth street, it was pretty much just Rosie’s Raiders, hanging out and drinking, and I put out a new net and cables, putting down lines, and people just started showing up to play. It culminated one day in 2012 with (gold medalists Julius) Brink and (Jonas) Reckermann and Jake and Rosie and the Russians and New Zealand and China and it was everybody. I just stood back and looked at it and thought it was pretty fun to watch. People just hung out after practice on my porch.”

Ah, yes, Mesko’s porch. If you’re in beach volleyball, you have likely hopped the Strand wall in Hermosa Beach and hung out on Mesko’s porch, either talking volley, losing money in backgammon, betting on something or other, perhaps measuring your height on the once-famed wall, which has since been torn down with his old place on eighth. The wall grew so famous, in fact, it had its own spread in DiG Magazine.

“The most amusing part for me was watching people tell Adam (Roberts) what they thought their height was and then seeing their real height,” he said. “Almost everybody was about an inch high except for Phil [Dalhausser], who said ‘I’m 6-9’ and, yeah, he was 6-9.”

Jon Mesko-SANDCAST

The wall. The backgammon. The porch. The set up. The constant, top-tier talent, both international and domestic, practicing on his courts. Not bad for a guy from Michigan who hadn’t played much beach volleyball prior to moving to California in 2002 and qualifying, for the first time, in 2006, seeded Q60 with Billy Allen.

Since, he has played in more than 100 domestic tournaments, won the NVL Soul Award, enjoyed some NORCECA — don’t ask him about the net height in NORCECAs — success and built not one but two unofficial training centers, where players gravitate towards his courts like moths to a flame.

“I’ve always been kind of a bigger picture, swing for the fences, shoot for the stars kind of guy, so I really try to ask the right questions,” Mesko said. “If you really want to play high level volleyball, you’re going to end up in the South Bay or Rio or Southeast Florida. That’s where you’re going to end up.

“So at that time, 15 years ago, I was interested in girls and bikinis and playing really good volleyball and everything in between. That was Hermosa Beach. And I started looking around and thought it would be really cool to live on the Strand, so I started asking questions, ‘Well, what does it take?’ And a guy said ‘It’s going to cost $5 million dollars, minimum’ and I used that as a bar, ‘What would it take for me to make that much money?’ And I used that algorithm to maybe get there. I suppose we’re there now.”

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