I couldn’t tell if Jorge Martinez was joking when he told me, back in February, to not be intimidated by the four-time Olympian on the other side of the net.
I can remember giving Jorge one of those sideways looks puppies give you when they have no idea what they’re being asked to do. Don’t be intimidated? I’d never played anyone with Olympic experience, much less four quads of them. I’d never played anyone with an Olympic medal, much less two of them, one of the golden variety, no less.
We went down 10-4 to Priddy and Travis Woloson in the semifinals of the AVP Next. Jorge was livid. I was a little giddy just to share a court with Reid Priddy, to tell you the truth.
But then the breeze kicked up, and you could begin to see the holes in Priddy’s beach game. Sets began spraying. He didn’t use his hands much, and when he did, it was like he couldn’t decide whether to keep them high and fast or loopy and slow, and the result was an odd hybrid of a thing. Floats that danced in the wind were cause for trouble. Priddy was, quite understandably, still very much an indoor volleyball player.
Jorge and I came back and then some, pushing Priddy and Woloson to match point at, I believe, 30-29 (the match was one game to 21). I missed a cutty out of bounds, and they ended up winning 33-31 or something.
Either way, I left the beach thinking that it would probably be some time before Priddy would be a legitimate force on the beach.
I’m wrong about a lot of things. This assumption tops that list.
Three months later, Priddy had scooped up Canadian Olympian Chaim Schalk, and they stunned top-seeded Kevin McColloch and Rafu Rodriguez-Bertran in the first round of the Huntington Beach qualifier. It had the feel of a main draw match because, let’s be honest, there were four players with main draw talent.
Rafu has since made a semifinal in Hermosa Beach. Schalk is on the heels of a momentous victory at the Beach Volleyball World Championships over 2016 Olympic gold medalists Alison and Bruno. McColloch took a seventh in San Francisco.
Oh, he’s had a ho hum year. What semblances of his indoor game are left appear only in cameos, quick to fade into the background. He sets butter, with his hands and platform. He abuses blockers. His serve is downright frightening.
He wound up losing in the final round of the Huntington Beach qualifier, for which he atoned with a fifth in his first main draw in Austin two weeks later. He took a ninth in New York and a seventh in Seattle, ensuring that qualifiers would be very much in the rearview.
He was picked up by Ricardo Santos, who is, statistically speaking, the greatest blocker who has ever lived, and they grabbed a third in San Francisco.
The contrast between February Reid Priddy and July Reid Priddy is, frankly, absurd.
February Reid Priddy lost 21-9 in the finals of an AVP Next to Eric Zaun and Skyler McCoy.
July Reid Priddy pushed Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, the hottest American team, to 14-9 in the third set of an AVP semifinal. Sure, they lost, but I’m not entirely sure Billy Allen doesn’t have superpowers.
Only two events remain on the AVP calendar: This weekend in Manhattan and the first weekend of September in Chicago. Priddy will not be a favorite to win either, but then again, that’s not his goal.
His goal, as he illustrated in the excellently-produced video below, is Tokyo 2020, what could be Priddy’s fifth Olympic Games.
The odds are, as his stats guy points out in the video, against Priddy, but that’s far from the point. The point is that this is a guy worth watching, and that’s one of the fundamental elements beach volleyball has been missing for a while.
Even if people don’t care to watch beach volleyball, they care to watch Reid Priddy. That matters. In less than 12 hours, his video had 30,000 views and counting. It will take less than a day for his view count to surpass the most popular video on the AVP’s YouTube channel.
That really matters.
The NBA was of little interest to the general public — relative to the colossus it is now — until Bird and Magic came along. That iconic rivalry kickstarted a massively profitable and popular sport, one that was once well behind the NFL and MLB and even boxing and is now, depending on where you live, the most popular professional sport to watch.
It’s the very same effect that Tiger had on golf.
In terms of ability to make an impact for the growth of a sport, is Priddy the Tiger or Magic or Bird of beach volleyball? I don’t know. I hate those comparisons, and they would be wildly hyperbolic anyway. What I do know is that Priddy has a massive platform, relative to the sport, and if he does indeed continue to document his journey in attempting to qualify for Tokyo, he’s going to inevitably gather a massive audience. Whether that audience is a Priddy audience or a beach volleyball audience doesn’t really matter. The two are espoused for the next four years.
You didn’t need to be a fan of golf to watch Tiger play, but you did anyway, and golf has since become hugely popular, perhaps the most competitive it has ever been. You don’t need to be a fan of beach volleyball to watch Priddy play, and it’s clear, from the number of views he’s receiving, people are watching him play.
The AVP couldn’t have handpicked a better player to do this documentary-style journey. Priddy is a phenomenal ambassador for the sport: exceptionally humble, family man, devout Christian, well-liked among everybody on Tour.
He is, in my eyes, everything the AVP needs.
So watch the video, enjoy it, share it, follow along.