From My Perspective: Kim Hildreth

At 18 years old and in my first season of collegiate volleyball at Eastern Michigan University, I got to experience my first AVP event. I’ll never forget 2009 when my college coach took our team to the AVP Muskegon during pre-season to go watch a former player competing on the tour. Our team got to sit courtside for the games, get tons of free samples, took a picture with Phil Dalhausser, and watch the Lindquist sisters wreak havoc on teams way bigger than them. After my first AVP experience, I was totally hooked, and a dream started to form. I had to play.

I started playing locally in Michigan with some really talented ladies, and eventually got the opportunity to sneak in one season of collegiate beach volleyball at the University of North Florida before my eligibility was up. After finishing college, I wanted to give professional beach volleyball a shot. Everyone told me, “If that’s your goal, it’s time to move to Southern California.”

Most professional beach volleyball players spend most of the year in Southern California. When I say that, I really do mean most players and most of their training. Southern California is amazing. There are literally thousands of courts just sitting open on the beach for anyone to use for free. The sand is deep, which is great for training. It rains so infrequently that social media explodes when it actually does rain. The weather holds out at pretty great temperatures for beach volleyball all year round. Over half of the AVP events are held on the west coast—three are right there on the SoCal beaches.

It’s common to walk the strand and see Olympians practicing—there are great players and great competition to train with. Even the juniors flock to Southern California and its 4-6 “national championship” events in Hermosa, Manhattan, Santa Monica, etc. If you’re going to call yourself a “pro” in beach volleyball, you have to move there!

Well, I am a professional beach volleyball player and I live in St Petersburg, Florida.

“What?? You just talked about how amazing SoCal is and how you should DEFINITELY live there if you want to be a pro!”

Well, after I had the best season of my career this past year going from a qualifier team to ranked in the top 10, I think it’s safe to say I am making it work. Here’s my perspective as an AVP athlete living outside of Southern California.

Florida is amazing. It’s warm ALL year and I HATE being cold (it’s 80 degrees and sunny as I’m sitting on my porch writing this in January). There are beach volleyball courts everywhere—bars, beaches, parks, colleges, and backyards. We have the #1 rated beach in the country, Clearwater Beach, where the sand is so fluffy and soft that it feels like someone dumped flour all over the ground. The beach volleyball community here is HUGE, plays every day all day, and is incredibly inclusive—it’s not uncommon that even on the same day as finishing a tournament, you can find the athletes at the Toasted Monkey, playing coed and pick up, drinking and hanging out.

There are tons of excellent players and coaches here. The cost of living is half of what it is in SoCal. Best of all, there is quite literally a tournament almost every weekend… and the tournaments here are AWESOME. Everyone who’s ever played a Dig the Beach or Tampa Bay Beach Bums event knows: you’ll get heckled, there will be free beer, you’ll probably cramp at least once, there will be music all day, someone who has way too much background information on the players will jump on the microphone, you’ll see some good ball punts, there are food vendors and snacks right there on the beach, and most of all—you’ll have a total blast.

While Florida is amazing, it’s not without its challenges. The peak of summer can be tough—it rains, it’s 105 degrees at 98% humidity, and with the rain on shallower courts can come some flooding. Florida is far from the 5 of 8 AVP events that are on the west coast. A tournament every weekend on a different beach means you’re playing in totally different sand all the time.

We have our gorgeous Siesta Key, where everyone hits the ball so hard that second-day shoulder soreness is guaranteed. We have Treasure Island, where defensive effort is earned with a blood sacrifice from your shins and elbows. We have Cocoa Beach, where in the middle of the summer, blisters are guaranteed even with sand socks. We have Fort Lauderdale, where during the rainy season, you might get to play in three different climates in one day (dripping wet humidity, a mid-day mini hurricane with 30 mph winds where you learn how to serve and pray the wind stays the same direction after you hit it, and post-mini-hurricane weather when it cools off and now you’re kind of freezing).

While the summer weather can sometimes be challenging in Florida, nothing makes you more prepared for professional beach volleyball than circumstances like these. Playing in rainy Seattle? No big deal, at least it’s not a monsoon. It’s 95 degrees in Austin on the qualifier day? LOL that’s chilly. It’s a windy morning in Manhattan Beach? At least the wind is consistently blowing in one direction! Waikiki is shallow and shelly? Eh, I won’t be able to distinguish the new scars on my shins from the old ones.

Not only do these circumstances turn you into a better player, they also play a role in making the Florida beach volleyball community as cool as it is. What’s better bonding than huddling under someone else’s tent during a Florida afternoon shower, trying to hold the tents down from the huge gusts of wind? For most people, playing in a different city every weekend would mean massive hotel bills. Florida? Here, we like to play a game where you see how many volleyball players you can fit on the couch, floor, or air mattresses. At one point in my career, we had 10 ballers and one cat in my 1100 square foot, two-bedroom apartment. Big shout out to everyone who always takes us volley nomads in—it’s truly amazing how many people are willing to open their homes and welcome us.

“So Florida’s not so bad, but Cali is where all the best players and coaches are!”

Well, I would say there are some pretty high-level players in Florida too. For example, come play a Dig the Beach where the team you have to beat in the finals is Ricardo Santos and Piotr Marciniak. This season on the AVP alone, two All-Florida teams went from the qualifier to the finals. There are tons of players on the AVP that live in or have roots in Florida. There are also tons of competitive players here in Florida that choose not to travel to play the tour, but that will kick your butt in local tournaments every weekend. In Florida, there are tons of excellent players and coaches. I found my niche in St Petersburg, where at Bevolley academy I am lucky enough to have three world class coaches and a tough Brazilian team to train against.

Professional beach volleyball is my dream job, and I’m totally living it. From attending my first AVP event 10 years ago to making my first AVP final this season, it’s been an up and down journey that has been worth every single second—and living in Florida is how I made it happen.

To anyone reading this: I hope you know that if you have a dream, you can make it work in whatever way you want to if you really dedicate yourself to it.