Tom Davenport of South of the Border (SOB) Volleyball Vacations has been leading fans and AVP pros alike on vacations into Mexico since 1994. If you want to see if your shots are good enough to beat Ty Tramblie, if you can hit past the block of Kelley Larsen, or if you can pass the jump serve of Billy Allen, or just play volleyball while imbibing adult beverages with umbrellas, this is the place.
After the most recent trip, this past January 14-21, former Long Beach State standout and AVP pro Caitlin Ledoux shared her experiences. SOB’s 48th trip south of the border included AVP pros Paul Araiza, Miles Evans, Bill Kolinske, Ty Loomis, Janelle Allen, Emily Stockman, and the aforementioned Tramblie, Larsen and Billy Allen, along with 192 players.
Wow. Just… wow. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to join the South of the Border Volleyball Vacations crew in Ixtapa this January. Man, oh man, what a trip it was …
I am going into my fourth season as a professional beach volleyball player, having played all types of events, ranging from amateur tournaments on the local California beaches to Olympic-qualifying events on the sands of Brazil leading up to the 2016 Rio games.
Playing this game has afforded me many special opportunities that I, honestly, never dreamed of. As I look back on my week in Ixtapa with the SOB family, I can’t help but get this goofy grin of gratitude knowing once again, volleyball has allowed me to be part of something incredibly special.
South of the Border Volleyball Vacations was something I had been vaguely familiar with for the past few years. I knew there was some “volley nerd” in Colorado that got a bunch of people from cold weather states to go down to Mexico for a few weeks every winter and play volleyball. I knew that he took a few pro players down also, but I was not sure what exactly they did. Every pro I asked about the trips gave vague, non explanatory answers … “so much fun,” “ exhausting, but awesome,” “I’ve never been so tired in my life!,” “an absolute blast.”
Not the kind of answers I was really looking for. It was like they were a part of this secret club that no one else could join. I gave up my inquiry, I had apparently failed the, “red or blue pill” question.
At the AVP Championships in Chicago this last September I noticed this unusually large and extremely vocal group of people following certain player’s games. This group seemed like they were on the best vacation and beach volleyball was, quite literally, God’s greatest gift to earth. They were extremely entertaining to observe, and luckily I didn’t have them cheering against me in any of my matches. I was able to ask someone who they were, and they replied, “We are the SOB family!!!”
Now, being the world traveler that I am, I’ve come to learn a few meanings for “SOB” and honestly, none of which I would announce with a smile on my face! She must have read the expression on my face, because she immediately followed with a quick explanation, “South of the Border Volleyball Vacations.”
Ah, it all made sense.
Sometime after the event, Tom Davenport and I were introduced and he asked me to join the crew down in Ixtapa at the beginning of 2017. We spoke about the event for over an hour on our first phone call. Surprisingly, I was even more confused about what exactly this event was going to be than before the phone call. He told me about “sugar,” the 2×2 tournament, the 4×4 coed tournament, the pro games, the theme night parties, the clinics, the hook games, the all you can eat restaurants, the open bar(s), the catamaran, and of course, the shrimp.
At the end of the call, I had said maybe 30 words, and repeated the phrase, “Please take me with you!” multiple times. Amazingly, Tom decided I would be a good fit for the family and I was in!
I flew down to Ixtapa a day early to get my bearings as one of the newbie pros on the trip. I landed late on a Friday afternoon, after being greeted at the all inclusive resort with a fresh, fruity, adult beverage, I dropped my bags at the room (which, by the way, had a gorgeous ocean front view) and headed straight to the beach.
There were already SOB guests on the sand playing 2-on-2 and hook. Hook is a game with four players on each side and a line of players waiting to come in. Whoever makes the error is “hooked” out, and a new player fills the space. If a ball drops without any of the four players getting a touch, then all four players are “hooked” and four new players go in. There are no traditional rules, so anything and everything goes. These games of hook can get pretty crazy. I made small talk with a few guests, watched a beautiful sunset, and headed back to the hotel to get ready for a staff dinner with the SOB crew. We went to a little seafood restaurant overlooking the bay of Zihuatanejo. It was, simply, amazing.
The next morning the “work” officially started. The first part of my job was to mingle with guests, get to know them; where they were from, how many SOB trips they had been on, what grades their children were in, and to share my career with them. I talked about how I became a pro, what my daily schedule looks like, what tournaments I was planning on playing in this season, and then play some pick up games with them. Once I fully understood what my job was, I couldn’t believe it. I was hired to share the game I love with people who love it! Pretty rad!!
The second part of my job, was equally as fun. Every night, the SOB guests had a predetermined location (bar, club, restaurant) where everyone would meet. I was supposed to make an appearance, and again, talk volleyball with people who love the sport like I do!
The Ixtapa trip had 230 guests and 16 staff members. That is a lot of people to try to keep straight and remember. Somewhere along the lines of running these SOB trips, Tom came up with the idea of theme nights to help identify who is with the volleyball crew and who is just at the hotel for a regular vacation.
The first night was Green theme. I had purchased an adorable new top so people would know I belonged with them. I was absolutely exhausted from the first day, but really excited to see what the nightlife of the volley vacation trips were all about. I went to the hotel lobby bar, got a free Modelo, and went to get a name tag from the guest wearing a very green kilt. I spent about 15 minutes in the lobby bar, waiting for guests to come down in their green outfits, and quickly realized I had the wrong idea about what constituted a “green costume” on this trip.
Within the 15 minutes I was there, I saw a kilt, a leprechaun onesie, a woman dressed as Poison Ivy, numerous body suits and face masks, a few wigs, disco suits, Power Ranger costumes, and tutus. There were a few people dressed in “nice” greens — dresses or button down shirts — but the majority of the guests had some major fun with the theme.
I was absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed from the first 24 hours in Ixtapa and unfortunately after only one Modelo, didn’t make it past 10 p.m. I was in my room by 10:05 and fast asleep by 10:15. I had managed to get 14 games in that day with the SOB early arrivals, but I completely missed the welcoming party.
Day 2 in Ixtapa was very much the same. Up early getting games in, a lunch that consisted mostly of the best guacamole I have ever had, followed by more games of hook all evening. Again, after a long day of being in the sun and playing, I missed the evenings dance at the “Sexy Bar” and was fast asleep by 10:30 pm … oops.
Day 3 brought a new adventure! About 80 guests and four pros went on a “snorkel cruise” out of the Zihuatanejo Bay. We boarded the biggest catamaran I have ever seen. There were about 100 people total aboard the boat and we all fit comfortably, lying across the nets or sitting with feet dangling overboard. We sailed 30 minutes out of the bay to a small cove, where we anchored, passed out snorkel equipment, life vests, and opened the again, all-inclusive, bar.
The afternoon was filled with dancing, singing, and back flip attempts (some successful, some very unsuccessful). What a dream come true. A whole afternoon of floating in the open water with a beer in hand. Does life get much better than that?
Well, actually, it does. We left the snorkel spot and sailed back into the Zihuatanejo Bay. The catamaran anchored about 100 yards off shore and we were shuttled into La Ropa Beach in local fish boats. We then waded, bags overhead, onto the white sandy beaches of the Zihuatanejo Bay. There, 300 beers on ice and the rest of the SOB guests were waiting for us, already playing pick-up games. There was another tiki-hut-type bar and we spent the evening eating more decadent guacamole, watching the sun go down between the opening of the bay in absolute bliss.
The rest of the week was filled with more of the same, sun, volleyball, guacamole, margaritas, and wonderful people. I finally made it to a few of the parties, where we quite literally laughed and danced the night away. I ate more fresh shrimp than I have eaten in my entire life. I met local restaurant owners that moved to Ixtapa from the U.S. many years ago to run restaurants and bars. I watched women dance with fire, got ocean-side massages, danced to Congo drums, parasailed, and I formed some great new friendships. By the end of the trip I was completely and utterly exhausted, mentally and physically. However, my spirit was light and my heart was happy.
When I got back to California and people asked about the trip, I realized that all of my responses fell into the same vague, non descriptive answers that were given to me prior to experiencing it first hand, “so much fun,” “exhausting, but awesome,” “I’ve never been so tired in my life!,” “an absolute blast!”
It dawned on me as my roommates were probing me for more in depth answers, that it is really quite impossible to fully explain what a South of the Border Volleyball Vacation is all about. It is so much more than playing volleyball or being on vacation. The relationships and bonds the guests have formed over the years are indescribable.
One couple met on this trip as singles 17 years ago. They spent their first honeymoon on the sands of Ixtapa. There were friends that live cross country and see each other once a year on this trip. There is a group that goes to multiple AVP events to reconnect and cheer on the pros they meet in Mexico.
There is a reason the girl I met in Chicago at the AVP Championships last September called it, “the SOB family.” The connections I formed in the short week I was in Ixtapa will last for many, many years to come, and I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of such an incredible event. I have joined the secret club.