If you didn’t know him and passed him on the street in his home in Redondo Beach, you wouldn’t think that Taylor Crabb is a pro beach volleyball player.
After all, he’s a pretty calm and laid-back guy and stands just 6 feet tall and is rather thin, weighing in at 160 pounds.
But his partner for the past three years, three-time Olympian Jake Gibb, said don’t be fooled by the former Long Beach State indoor star.
“He has an internal fire and will to win that is unbelievable, really,” said Gibb, who has partnered with the product of O’ahu, Hawai’i, for three years.
“Sometimes if you’re not right next to him experiencing the whole thing, you can see it as this laid back kid, who is cool, calm, and collected.
Gibb’s domestic experiences with Crabb have been impressive so far, with wins in both AVP Huntington and Austin.
“He has a fire to win that is awesome.”
That fire will no doubt show itself next week when the AVP Tour moves to the Big Apple for the New York City Open. While that’s a domestic event, much of the focus for the top beach pros has started to turn to their international competition, since this is the first full year of qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Gibb and Crabb plan to play in all of the FIVB Tour five-star events and most of the four-stars, and will play in any AVP event that doesn’t conflict.
“It’s trying to reach my dream. It’s what I always wanted to do when I was a kid, play professionally, and then make the Olympics,” Crabb said.
“Watching the guys that came before me from Hawai’i, see all of them try and reach the Olympics. Kevin Wong made it there (another Punahou High School product who finished fifth in 2000) and it’s something I want to keep the tradition alive for all the Hawai’ian guys that came before me.”
While he was undersized in college, Crabb was the 2013 AVCA national player of the year as a junior at Long Beach State and a two-time All-American.
After college, he dabbled in a pro men’s league in France, but his love for the beach was too strong.
“I had a great time, loved France, loved playing professionally indoor, but there’s something about the beach that I’ve always loved more,” Crabb said.
“Being able to live in the United States, setting up your own schedule, being with family and friends is pretty important to me.
“Money isn’t the biggest deal to me. I love playing volleyball, so I’m going to find a way to do it.”
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Gibb and Crabb lead the USA in FIVB entry points, tied for ninth with 2,440.
“The kid works his butt off. If we judge him by his speed on the court, nobody has a better work ethic than Taylor Crabb,” said Gibb’s and Crabb’s coach, Rich Lambourne.
“I think he’s in the top one or two defenders. We have some good defenders out there right now, we were in practice today with Nick Lucena, who is obviously in that conversation, and has been for over a decade. It would probably be Nick and Taylor, and you know is working his way into that mix, is Reid Priddy. He’s done a bunch of work this off-season and is playing some great volleyball.”
Gibb, 43, is at the opposite end of the career spectrum from the 27-year-old Crabb. They spend a lot of time together on international flights and in hotel rooms, and share both similarities and differences, Gibb said.
“I think we’re the same in that we’re both laid back and have similar family upbringings and values. That goes a long way, to both have strong parents with a strong relationship,” Gibb said.
“A partnership is an intimate thing because because I end up spending more time with him than my wife over the summer.
“In that way, we’re very similar, the age thing is real, but even with that, I have kids, so we don’t talk about kids’ soccer practice.
“He’s in a steady relationship, so we have a lot to relate to there. I just see it as we have more similarities than differences.”
Lambourne recognizes that.
“I think they have a great vibe with one another. Obviously there’s a disparity in age and overall experience on the beach,” Lambourne said. “Jake’s been doing that and only that for almost two decades, and Taylor’s just this side of his 27th birthday, but from a volleyball standpoint, he’s wise beyond his years.
“His temperament and Jake’s temperament fit really well together and I hope creates a really successful vibe on the court.”
Crabb also has a bit of a prankster in him, Gibb said.
“He’s a subtly funny guy. For example, our coach is color-blind, so he likes to grab the BBQ sauce and act like it’s ketchup and hand it to him.
“He enjoys the subtleties of making fun of us, he’s a really funny guy to have around.”
But it’s all business on the sand.
“This is our third year together and every year I feel like we’re improving,” Crabb said. “We’re still trying to work on our communication on the court. In the past year we’ve been trying to work on me being the vocal leader for our defense and scouting, so I can tell him what to do on the blocking, instead of him figuring out what to do. That way he just goes out and does it, and doesn’t have to worry about anything else.”
“I’m still working on how to tell a three-time Olympian what to do. It’s a little awkward, but he’s great, and he’s really receptive with what I tell him, and with what Rich tells him. He’s really easy to work with.”
Lambourne, the starting libero on the 2008 USA men’s team that won gold in Beijing, is a key part of the puzzle, said Crabb.
“He’s one of the best volleyball minds out there. He’s played at the top level, a gold medalist,” Crabb said. “He’s as great coach for us, not only just his volleyball IQ, but how personable he is, how we get along. You need that whole thing in a team in order to be a great team. Chemistry is a lot bigger than people think for sports.”
The FIVB World Tour is getting increasingly athletic, with both blockers and defenders increasing in height and size. Crabb is undaunted, dealing with blocks like Russia’s Oleg Stoyanovskiy at 6-9 and the USA’s Ryan Doherty at 7-1.
“You prepare with your training. That’s where you get your confidence from. I always work hard in practices, I believe in myself, I have a good team around me that believes in me, you feel invincible when you’re out there when you have your supporting cast with you,” Crabb said. “You believe you can do anything, and just because a guy’s 7 feet, it’s not going to scare me.
“I’ve played many guys that are that big, and I love the challenge, to find a way to beat these big blocks and these big defenders, hard hitters. It’s like a puzzle and I love to try and figure it out.”
Crabb’s preparation includes utilizing the resources at the USA training facility in Torrance, where he frequently watches video with Tyler Hildebrand, USA Volleyball’s director of coaching. He also credits his personal trainer Daniel Chong, who sends him workouts from Hawai’i throughout the year.
“Before the season starts, I’m lifting four times a week after practice, and once the season gets going I’ll knock it down to three or even two depending on how my body feels.”
Gibb and Crabb have the luxury of having enough points to directly enter the main draw of any event they choose, so they don’t have to scramble around the world playing in qualifiers and country quota matches.
This allows them more flexibility in choosing events, as they need only 12 good results during the Olympic qualification period.
“We’re not going to rush into it and burn ourselves out,” Crabb said. “It’s a two year process, we’re really going to take our time and make sure we’re really ready for every tournament that we do go to, so we can have a good finish and put ourselves in a better position for qualifying.”