MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — By now you know the streak. How could you not?
As of two Sundays ago, Trevor Crabb has won three Manhattan Beach Opens in a row, joining a venerated list of just 10 male players who have put their names on the pier in three consecutive years. He let everyone know, too, in the immediate moments following his and Tri Bourne’s victory over Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner, that he was coming for Phil Dalhausser, the most recent winner of three straight.
Should he win the next, in August of 2023, he’ll likely take aim at the man many consider the GOAT: Karch Kiraly, who won four in a row, in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993.
So, yes, you know that streak. But there’s one that is perhaps even more remarkable than Crabb’s on his own, one discovered in the latest of hours, at the most fitting of places: the dark and damp and loud and well-lubricated bowels of Shellback Tavern, the diviest of dive bars in Manhattan Beach, California.
Did you know, Bourne texted a group of his friends that night, that every Manhattan Open since 2015 has featured either a Bourne or a Crabb in the finals? Seven straight years of championships featuring one of the three childhood friends, all raised on the now-famed Baby Court of the Outrigger Canoe Club, all of whom at various points in their careers have been labeled, not incorrectly, as the next face of American beach volleyball.
To call that remarkable is an understatement. It’s downright preposterous.
In this booming era of grassroots beach volleyball, in which kids are signing up for clinics and private coaching lessons before they learn the basic geometry by which this game is played, three of the finest players in the United States grew up without any semblance of, as Taylor Crabb said on SANDCAST, “organized beach. We didn’t have clubs, there was no coaching, it was just us going out and screwing around.”
There’s a certain beauty in that, a ruggedness in the home-grown style of play the three of them have learned by virtue of playing all day, every day, at the pseudo daycare that became Outrigger. When Bourne wrote his debut novel, Volleyball for Milkshakes, it was fiction, yes, but like many debut novels, it was loosely based on the non-fiction events that shaped his life. The setting of the book rarely wavers from Outrigger, or the glittering ocean that laps its shores. The tournament at the end of the book is the equivalent of the annual Reese Haine birthday party, which, to the Crabbs and Bourne and Brad Lawson and McKibbins and Spencer McLaghlin, may as well have been the Manhattan Beach Open.
At this point you should only need one guess as to who won the most Hainer birthday party tournaments.
“I still have the record for most Hainer birthday party wins ever,” Trevor Crabb recalled. “I remember one year, during his birthday party, after the tournament was over, I beat him in the finals and he was in the corner throwing rocks at the wall for an hour straight. Meanwhile, the rest of us are out in the ocean still having his birthday without him.”
It’s a fitting image for today. While players might not be throwing literal rocks against literal walls, many are wont to throw the metaphorical type on social media. Crabb loves it. Invites it. Thrives in it. And he’s happy to do the same. It’s why he guaranteed last year’s win with Bourne, and why he immediately went after Dalhausser in the moments when most players would be busy reveling in an accomplishment that has, in all likelihood, sealed Crabb’s legacy as this generation’s Big Game Hunter. Even Bourne didn’t wait long to resume the competition, wondering out loud how he was going to catch his own partner in Manhattan titles, given that Crabb is one up on him and they’d have to split in order for Bourne to do so.
“I just don’t like Trevor having more plaques than me,” Bourne said. “I don’t know how to get around it, so we’ll just have to keep going.”
Some might find it strange — and many did — but those who have known them longest know that this type of internal competition is exactly why the biggest tournament on the AVP calendar has featured one of those three in the finals for nearly a decade. The AVP, the Manhattan Beach Open, is the new Outrigger, the new Hainer Birthday Party.
“The competition reminds me of back then, even when we’re just playing for nothing or milkshakes,” Bourne said. “You just don’t want to lose to your friends. It’s really helpful for practice because you get bored. So Jose [Loiola, their former coach] would say ‘Alright, you’re playing against each other’ and you get up for that.
“It helps a lot at practice because we’re actually going against each other at practice and that’s nice sometimes because you need to get it out of your system so when you’re on the court together for real you can be together.”
Sports have a funny way of becoming rites of passage for young, competitive men and women. For some, that rite might be earning a college scholarship, winning a state or conference title, earning an individual accolade. For the Hawai’ians, it was bouncing the fence at Outrigger.
“When you could bounce the fence, then you become a man,” Taylor Crabb said. “I’m serious.”
They are men now, to be sure, and only Taylor Crabb has the final rite of passage remaining among the Outrigger groms: Putting his name next to his brother’s on the Manhattan Beach Pier.
If history is any indicator, there will be, at the very least, more finals in his future to do exactly that.
“We’re very proud that one of us has been in the finals of every Manhattan Open since 2015,” Bourne said. “Pretty damn proud of that one. Baby Court Mafia.”