CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — How hard could it be, Michael Donajkowski wondered, to get a group of friends to go to Mexico for week of beach volleyball, margaritas, and good people, during the otherwise cold winter months? A resident of Sparks, Nevada, he tried to rally some buddies. Some seemed into it. Others shrugged it off.
In the end, Donajkowski made the trip to Cabo for a South of the Border Volleyball Vacation in early March on his own. Upon arriving along with nearly 70 others who made the trip for the vacation, he wondered something entirely new.
“Why would I need to bring anyone,” he asked, eating dinner on a patio at the Sheraton Grand in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, “when everyone I’d want to bring is already here?”
He said this surrounded by a group of fellow beach volleyball enthusiasts. Their geographic locations ranged from Nevada to Moscow, Ohio to Montreal, Mexico to New Jersey. Their professions fell anywhere between doctor to bartender, running the full spectrum between. Some came with friends. Some with wives. Others showed up single which, given some fantastic results, isn’t such a bad idea. It is on these trips that former pro Mike Placek met his wife and where Bill Kolinske met Kelley Larsen, who recently wed in San Diego.
Point is: No matter from where it is you’re coming, or with whom you are making the trip, there is a place for you at this metaphorical beach volleyball table, provided one thing: That you love beach volleyball. Not just the game, but the people, the atmosphere, the lifestyle.
A week at a South of the Border Volleyball Vacation consists of beach volleyball in the morning, clinics with various professionals in the late morning or early afternoon, more games, then games with the professionals, then something the vacationers call hook, which is similar to the widely-played drinking game, ace. They’ll do that until sunset. Then it’s a shower before dinner on the town, which precedes what will typically be a late night filled with drinks and memories only to be recalled with photographs and stories told by others who may or may not have witnessed the events. A quick nap and you’re back on the beach again.
Because there’s always more volleyball to be played.
“They’re all students of the game here,” said Troy Field, who has been on five consecutive Volleyball Vacations. “That’s what’s the most fun is that Tom (Davenport) has created this community and it’s filtered the people who don’t have that student mindset.”
When Davenport, who runs beach volleyball facilities and leagues full-time in Colorado, first trekked down to Mexico for a volleyball trip with some buddies, in 1994, he didn’t envision the enterprise that it has become. He never had in mind doing four trips in a single summer — two in Puerto Vallarta, one in Ixtapa, one in Cabo — as he does now, to great success. Ixtapa, in fact, has grown to host more than 200 guests and registration fills up in less than half an hour. Davenport is now recognizable enough to be known to the workers there as, simply, Tomas de Volleyball.
All that, and he was originally seeking only a week of volleyball and cheap beer. But then, as these things sometimes do, it grew. Others joined the trip. That group then invited others. To add an extra element, he brought down Brent Doble, a five-time AVP champ, as his first professional. Doble had to earn his paycheck by winning the tournament at the end of the week.
That has since changed. The week is no longer only excellent opportunity for beach volleyball enthusiasts around the world to congregate, but for professionals to earn a legitimate paycheck teaching the game in beautiful locations. Billy Allen has been on 17 trips, as has Ty Tramblie. Olympians Sean Rosenthal, Jake Gibb, April Ross, Jen Kessy and Casey Patterson have all made appearances. In a sport where money is hard to come by, Davenport has produced a legitimate side gig for pros during the off-season months.
Now, not only does Field, for example, have an off-season job within the sport, but he has legions of new fans, either at AVP events or watching on Amazon Prime. The intimate feel of the vacations, in which the guests get to befriend professionals both on the court and off, over beach volleyball and dinner and drinks, breaks down barriers.
“I can go anywhere in the country,” Tramblie said, “and I’ll have a place to stay.”
The Cabo trip was the first that Eric Beranek had attended. An up-and-comer on the AVP Tour who finished third in the 2019 Manhattan Beach Open, Beranek was an easy fit in Cabo, the type of high-energy personality to hang with the most dedicated of the night owls and still teach a clinic the next day.
“Tom has created such a good environment,” he said. “That’s why I’m so impressed with Tom that he’s doing this. He’s been doing it for so long. You get into this mindset to be grateful. These people have a really fun week, including ourselves.”