Trevor Crabb and the revival of beach volleyball’s trash talk

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Trevor Crabb during 2017 AVP play with former partner Sean Rosenthal/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

If you didn’t get to the Hermosa Beach Pier early this past July 22, you would have been too late. There would have been no seats left, nowhere for you to watch the first clash of the Crabbs, Taylor and Trevor, brothers and former partners turned, it seemed, bitter rivals.

This wasn’t even the final –- that would be a day later. This was the quarters, an oft-ignored round, one normally you’d sit and watch should you be there but not one to schedule your day around. And, yet, of course, this was no ordinary quarterfinal. This was a can’t miss match, on a Saturday, one whose attendance would vastly outnumber both semifinals a day later.

A large reason can be effectively summed up in two words: Trevor Crabb, the subject of this week’s SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. And we must point out the interview was done before Crabb announced his split with Sean Rosenthal.

You may not like Trevor. You may love him. There’s a better chance you’re in one camp or the other, and not in the gray area in between, which is as much a societal trend as it is one regarding the elder of the Crabb brothers.

He likes that it’s quite possible he’s in a similar –- relatively speaking – popularity category as Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors or Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs: sublime athletes who are as liked as they are disliked, whose talents are oftentimes discussed after their behavior, or in spite of it. He digs how much attention his verbal digs get –- sand-throwing fools and goggle-wearing fools, hungover fool — everyone’s a fool.

His mouth has earned him almost daily jabs on social media from Ty Loomis (the “sand-throwing” fool) and the on-court animosity of his brother, Taylor (the “hungover fool”), who reserves stare downs across the net almost exclusively for Trevor. Maddison McKibbin was at his most vocal when he and Loomis played Trevor and Sean Rosenthal in Hermosa Beach on July 21. It wasn’t much of a match, with Crabb and Rosenthal winning 21-16, 21-13, and yet the interest in it never waned, so close were the possibilities for explosions.

Thanks, in large part, to the fuses that Crabb had lit.

😈 #thevillain #kingDoom #nocrying @avpbeach

A post shared by Trevor Crabb (@kingcrabb808) on

He did not invent trash talk on the beach.

But Crabb has done what we can to revive it in what has been a largely amicable half-decade for the AVP under Donald Sun.

He still laughs at the attention it gets, because when you think about it, what, in the wide scheme of sporting trash talk, has Trevor Crabb really done? He called Loomis a sand-throwing fool, though Loomis is the first to take immense pride in his quirky celebrations, in which he is, indeed, making himself as sandy as possible, either by showering himself with it or rolling in it. Crabb called Slick a goggle-wearing fool, and indeed, Slick does wear military-grade goggles to shield his eyes. Taylor Crabb’s hard-partying ways are hardly breaking news.

All three give it right back, too. Most of this is good-natured. Some of it flirts with the line of going perhaps a touch too far. When his partnership with Rosenthal was announced as over, he posted on Instagram that Rosenthal “is a legend of the game. I wish him the best as he pursues a career on the LPGA Tour.”

Too far? Maybe. Maybe just far enough. He’s not altogether concerned either way.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Crabb said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

His most notorious rub is with Reid Priddy, a four-time indoor Olympian who, in his first year full-time on the beach, made the semifinals of the Manhattan Beach Open, where he met Crabb and Rosenthal. Crabb blocked Priddy early, and by Crabb’s accounting of the event, he waved for the crowd – and particularly to Rosie’s Raiders – to grow louder. Priddy, according to Crabb, told him to try to block the next one with his eyes open.

Crabb says he told Priddy to go back to indoor.

Some have said Crabb went further, that he made things personal. On SANDCAST, Crabb shrugged it off and said that was basically that.

When the match ended, there was an icy standoff between the two. The beach volleyball world subsequently lost its collective mind, and had you been following it purely on social media, you might have thought they brawled instead of played.

They turned and walked opposite directions.

It’s a wonder what the reaction would have been to a player like, say, Kent Steffes, or Tim Hovland or Steve Obradovich, some of the sharpest, brashest trash talkers the game has known, bastions of a bygone era.

In 1992, three years after Crabb was born, Steffes told the Los Angeles Times that “I’d been taught aggressive, loud-mouthed, obnoxious volleyball. You try to humiliate the other team because they’re trying to humiliate you. I didn’t go out to win, I went out to destroy.”

And, much to the delight of beach volleyball fans, that in your face style made for some provocative matches, on the court and off. Later that year, Steffes had Randy Stoklos running so hot that Stoklos followed him to his hotel after a match and they nearly came to blows. Steffes told the New York Times the next day that “you know why Randy and I got in that fight? Because I blocked him at 13-all to break open the game, 14-13. And I went, ‘Yeahhhh.’ And I turned around and high-fived Karch. And he thought I shouldn’t cheer when I blocked him, that he’d been involved in the sport for so long, he’d played for 10 years, that I ought to respect him enough not to cheer when I block him. Have you ever heard anything so asinine in your life?”

Sound familiar?

In 1996, when Steffes was informed that Stoklos had twisted his ankle and wouldn’t be anywhere close to 100 percent for their Olympic trial match the next day, the one to qualify for Atlanta, he shrugged and deadpanned: “Good. I hope it’s broken.”

That was volleyball then – loud, merciless, unapologetic. Or, in today’s vernacular: “Savage.”

“Anything goes,” Sinjin Smith told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. “Yelling, screaming, fighting – and all of it happened. In any given match, it was pretty crazy. And very, very entertaining to the public. Players would end up going into the crowd and actually mixing it up with the crowd and each other. You just don’t see that today.”

It wasn’t only reserved for the bad boys. No, even Karch Kiraly, the G.O.A.T, the golden boy, one of the most likable humans there is, took swipes at Smith prior to the 1996 Olympic Games. He told the press that Smith, who was nearing 40, might need a wheelchair to be brought out on center court. He lashed out at – and has since apologized to – Carl Henkel, Smith’s partner in the 1996 Olympics, too.

“Every time Karch had a microphone he was badmouthing Sinjin,” Henkel told me last winter, during an interview for a book I’ve been writing on beach volleyball.

Karch Kiraly? Bad mouthing?

Makes you wonder: Are Crabb’s antics all that different?

Perhaps the beach volleyball world has become a bit sensitive. Crabb’s volume of trash talk pales in comparison to the Warriors’ Green, whose prodigious mouth earns him technical fouls and fines by the month. And besides, Crabb’s at least never intentionally kicked someone in the nuts. It pales in comparison to the Redskins’ Josh Norman, or former Viking great Randy Moss.

Heck, even Jordan Spieth will mix it up on the PGA Tour.

Perhaps you’d like Crabb to shut up. Just play volleyball. Maybe win a tournament before chiding those who have, like Taylor or Loomis or McKibbin or Slick.

But you cannot deny this: When Trevor plays, you’re going to watch.

In this case, you’re going to listen.

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