“Oh, you’re the beach volleyball writer guy?”
Everywhere I went, every beach I stepped foot on from May to August, that’s the introduction I received. I loved it.
Yeah. I’m the Writer Guy.
My older brother, Tyler, got a kick out of it. He surprised me when he visited on the eve of the Manhattan Beach Open. It was his first time in California, so he didn’t really know anybody. While I played, he’d sit by the side and watch, apparently absorbing the commentary as well.
“Everyone just calls you the writer guy,” he said after Skyler McCoy and I lost to Derek Olson and Brian Cook. “Did you know that?”
I did. It’s still kind of funny.
I never really intended to be the writer guy. Not for beach volleyball at least. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but prior to this year, I hadn’t really written much on beach volleyball, aside from a few features when I was living on the Gulf Coast.
But when May rolled around, and the Huntington Beach qualifier entry list was released, I just kind of wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I wrote because when the entry list for a qualifier is released, my nervous system goes into overdrive, flooded with adrenaline, nerves, excitement, anticipation.
At the time, I was also well-caffeinated, and when that bongload of neurochemicals and caffeine meshes, the side effect is itchy fingers and a keyboard that’s just begging to clatter.
So I wrote. I wrote about each quadrant of the bracket, breaking it down much the same as I would NCAA March Madness, NFL Playoffs, NBA finals – any notable sporting event worthy of news coverage. No paper I had read had given beach volleyball worthy coverage in some time (the LA Times, as I’ve come to find out, was tireless in its beach volleyball coverage in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but has basically given up, aside from the occasional Bill Plaschke column).
I figured why not me?
I almost deleted the thing, to tell you the truth. I was so nervous about how people would react that I very nearly pulled the blog down, hoping nobody would see it. But people did see it.
The first person I saw the next morning, the day of the qualifier, was Dylan Maarek. He said it was awesome to read something legitimate, from someone who was halfway knowledgeable about the sport. This became a common theme throughout the day: Players acknowledging me as “that writer guy” who wrote the preview of the tournament.
To be honest, the best compliment I received all day was from a handful of women, who were upset that the writer guy didn’t write about them. I just nodded my head, not feeling the need to let them in on the fact that I was indeed the one who had ignored them. Inside, though, I was smiling: If people were ticked I didn’t write about them, then perhaps I had done something right.
Evidently I had.
Down the volleyball grapevine my story went, landing in front of the eyes of Lee Feinswog, the man who would become my editor. He called me the next day.
“Who are you?” he asked, and I’ll forever remember the next line. “And why the hell is a guy with a Baltimore area code writing about beach volleyball?”
We talked for a bit, me detailing my story and background and Feinswog his, and just like that, my silly little blog had been picked up by Volleyballmag.com.
Whether I knew it or not, I had just become the Beach Volleyball Writer Guy – merwither-uh-whats-his-name.
And what a blast it was.
My job, for the most part, was to write previews and follows from every AVP tournament, though sometimes I contributed extras, like the story on the NVL cancelling the 2017 season and the follow-up interview with Al-B Hannemann.
I played in most of the AVPs, and there is no more efficient means of reporting and gathering information than playing against the athletes about whom you are writing.
I think it was Plato who said that “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
I found that to be 100 percent accurate.
I also found that, journalistically speaking, I was walking a mighty fine tightrope. Writing about subjects is one thing. Writing about your friends, your training partners, your potential training partners, your opponents – everything your life revolves around – is a delicate and tricky matter.
I was more PR than journalist, to be honest. I refused to break stories about new partnerships forming, in fear that if I wrote all the gossip and news I heard in practice, I’d burn essentially every bridge I had. The only news that I broke, per se, is when the NVL was cancelled, which was a non-decision. It had to be written, and it was going to be written anyway. I may as well have been first.
I happily accepted favors for stories – free entry here, sponsorship stuff there – which is a cardinal sin for journalists. I was once denied a practice round at Congressional Country Club prior to the U.S. Open – I have never forgiven my editors for this – because, in accepting a free round, I might “favor the course” when I wrote about it in that weekend’s coverage. I suppose I still hold that grudge, for when I was offered anything for the stories I wrote this year, I didn’t even think twice. Because remember: This all started as a silly blog. It wasn’t anything serious. It was just for fun.
But that silly little blog provided the impetus for the most fun I’ve had “at work” in my life. It has been indescribably cool to meet and, in some cases, befriend some of the biggest names in beach volleyball.
Who am I, this beach volleyball writer guy with a perpetually changing life direction, to be in their company?
And, of course, with all the fun came the inevitable side effect of mistakes. Yeah, I made plenty of those, too. A lot of young people, in pursuing careers or lives that might be deemed unusual, like to quote, with fancy little Instagram images, Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
What they forget to mention is that in the forging of that path, you’re probably going to trip a fair amount. “Beach volleyball journalism” is a decidedly new endeavor, and I tripped more than a few times in trying to carve out my own trail. It’s inevitable for any writer who produces a fair amount of content to err, but it doesn’t make it any smoother to swallow when you write something dumb and readers rightfully call you out for it.
I made plenty, but hopefully those are in the rearview, and next year will be smoother and a tad more organized. I have an idea for the type of content people enjoy – although it was undoubtedly my most popular post, I very much hope I do not have to write another long-winded diatribe on qualifiers kicking my butt, as I did in Hermosa – and the type they don’t.
I have plans to continue writing about this sport in the off-season, and hopefully a lot when the college beach season gets underway.
I want to cover this like the legitimate sport it is.
So I’ll just keep on writing, and hopefully you’ll just keep on reading.
I’m quite happy being the Beach Volleyball Writer Guy.