It’s easy. Grab your beach chair, pour your quarters in the parking meter and trudge down Manhattan Beach Boulevard, and there the pier looms.
The sand and waves can wait for a few minutes, because there is a tribute to be paid. Slowly, you walk onto the pier, and you can see the plaques and remember the trials and tribulations, the victories and the elation, of all who won the Manhattan Beach Open. Winners, champions, legends are all enshrined at your feet.
This experience is not reserved for those from the South Bay, Westside, Orange County, wherever in Southern California, who choose to plop on the beach in a sort of pilgrimage.
They’re also watching the AVP from thousands of miles away, and like all kids who try their bump-set-hit skills on the sand, they want to do it in the deep sand.
Believe it or not, from the corners of the globe, there are eyes watching the AVP. And they want to be a part of it.
Assuming for the moment all of the paperwork, documentation, residency, etc. are taken care of, the AVP could again become the melting pot of beach volleyball.
It started in the 1980s, when the stars came from Brazil and fell in love with Hermosa Beach, among other stops. Jackie Silva (Olympic gold medalist), Sandra Pires (gold medalist, three-time Olympian), Emanuel Rego (seven-time AVP champ, five-time Olympian, gold medalist), Jose Loiola (Olympian, 35-time AVP winner) are among the names who paved the way.
Suddenly, in the past couple of years, the international players are finding their way back to the AVP and making an impact.
Ricardo Santos, the Brazilian legend (Olympic gold, silver and bronze) moved to Florida so he could end his career on the AVP. When he arrived in 2017, his partner was Chaim Schalk, who represented Canada in the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Canadian Brandie Wilkerson nearly made history when she and Nicole Branagh were one match away from getting their plaque on the Manhattan Pier in 2017.
In August, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes won the AVP Gold Series Manhattan Beach Open, realizing their childhood dreams from Toronto. Schalk, with Jeremy Casebeer, won their first AVP titles at the Seattle Open in June.
Two-time Olympian Elsa Baquerizo of Spain was born in New York. Carolina Solberg comes from volleyball royalty in Brazil; she and her mother Isabel are the only mother-daughter combo to win international events. Her sister, Maria Clara, is already an AVP regular, and their brother, Pedro (2016 Olympian), has not only won 18 times on the FIVB tour, but won in Hermosa Beach with Casey Jennings in 2011 as well.
The international flavor is just a foot in the door. AVP CEO Donald Sun is on record inviting any and all who can get the documentation to challenge the best in the United States.
It’s not too far away. Ask any international player about the AVP, and they will tell you how much they enjoy the YouTube videos produced by Riley and Maddison McKibbin. Virtually all of them are hooked up to the coverage on Amazon Prime Video. They come to Southern California to train in the January sunshine when all is snow and cold in Europe.
And they never miss a chance to take that walk on the pier.
“That would be really cool,” Norway’s Christian Sorum said of the prospect of playing on the AVP. “We were in Manhattan Beach last year, we saw the names on the pier and that was really cool. We saw Melissa and Sarah, they got their name on the pier.”
Norway? Beach volleyball? Sorum and Anders Mol just happen to be the top-ranked team in the world at the moment, perhaps the most dominant team since the Todd Rogers & Phil Dalhausser days.
When Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings were winning every event, it wasn’t lost on the rest of the world. It was an influence.
Just ask Laura Ludwig, a three-time Olympian, the 2016 gold medalist, the 2017 World Champion and the newly crowned World Tour Finals champ.
“Actually, growing up, America was so far away,” Ludwig said. “I was always looking after Kerri and Misty, I was always thinking about them but I wasn’t really thinking about the tour because we were practicing more, we love practicing in the winter (in California).
“Definitely (AVP) if there’s a possibility, if that’s the future not only going for the Olympics so I’m going for tournaments, then I’m in.
“I would never say no. If there is a possibility and it fits in the plan, for sure. It’s a great tour and it’s a possibility to play tournaments before FIVB. Definitely, Americans are great, it’s always amazing there, they love beach volleyball so it’s a good environment.”
And get your name on the pier?
“Oh, heck yeah.”
They’ve got their eyes on you, AVP.
“It would be amazing,” said Mol, voted the world’s best player for 2018. “I’ve looked at those tournaments on the Internet and they look amazing. So many fans, also the whole broadcasting and everything looks really cool. Donald, we’re ready for you so just give us a call and we’ll be there.
“You have two Canadians on the pier, then we have to have some Beach Vikings on there too.”
Serve it up.