The McKibbin brothers are unforgettable.
They’re tall and handsome and sport matching dark, bushy beards. I’ve known Riley and Maddison for years – they’re the life of the party, super funny and two of the most well-known pro beach volleyball players on the AVP tour. They’re the kind of people you can talk to about beach volleyball endlessly – just a couple of volley nerds who love the game and want everyone else to. Throughout our interview, we kept coming back to the same question…
Why is beach volleyball not the most popular sport in the world?
Beautiful, fit people play an exciting, fast-paced game on stunning beaches around the world. And yet, the Big Four Sports consistently beat us out for air space and exposure. Riley and Maddison know better than anyone the potential of the sport. They’re on a mission to grow the game and crack the code to unlocking wider-spread awareness, excitement, and demand for beach volleyball.
Beach volleyball has been a part of the brothers’ lives since they were young kids in Hawaii. They grew up in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, where beach volleyball was widespread and basically a form of childcare for kids on the island. Their mom and dad were members of the Outrigger Canoe Club along with the parents of other future AVP pros Taylor and Trevor Crabb, Tri Bourne, and Brad Lawson. The parents would surf, paddle, or play while their kids did the same. “We had no choice other than to develop our skills,” Riley says. “We’d play for hours. Usually for milkshakes.”
“It was literally our daycare,” Maddison laughs.
The boys spent years training on a miniature court, one they deemed the “baby court” with kids of all ages. Their days of playing on the baby court paired with indoor training at school eventually paid off – the McKibbin brothers got really good at volleyball and had plenty of college choices. Both boys opted for school on the mainland and went to USC for indoor volleyball. Just two years apart, Riley and Maddison overlapped two seasons as Trojans.
After graduation, Riley played three years overseas in Greece. Once Maddison finished at USC, he joined his brother’s team. Eventually, both left Greece and moved to Italy, where Riley played, and Maddison just hung out. “I considered myself a housewife,” Maddison jokes. “But I didn’t really do anything.”
“Yeah – Maddison tells everyone that he cooked and cleaned,” Riley laughs. “But I don’t think he did either of those things.”
“I crushed some TV shows, though,” Maddison says. “But really, I wish I would’ve done more over there. It was really cool to live in another place, but it’s hard to be productive living in a small coastal town overseas.”
One thing they did explore while living in Greece was content creation. The pair bought a camera and experimented with video blogging (vlogging). They didn’t quite know what they were doing yet, but they had fun filming their extraordinary lives and editing them down to make a compelling final product. “I wish we knew what we know now about making content; it would have been incredible in Greece and Italy.”
Another idea the brothers entertained in Italy was playing beach volleyball professionally. Though they’d grown up playing, the two had never played as partners. “Our mom wouldn’t let us because we would fight too much,” Riley says. But they were sure of their skills and confident of another thing – that two pro beach volleyball bearded brothers would be highly “brandable.” In Europe, they began growing out their beards for the first time. Much to their delight, the McKibbin brothers were more than capable of growing long, lush beards. By the time they moved to California to try their luck on the AVP Tour, Maddison and Riley had long and somewhat unkempt beards down to their chests. “They were so gnarly,” Maddison laughs. Gnarly and memorable.
Their first AVP tournament was in New York City in 2015. They were the 22 seed in the qualifier and upset three teams, including their Hawaiian buddy Brad Lawsen and his partner. Their days spent goofing around on the baby court at Outrigger Canoe Club stuck with them – the McKibbin brothers have qualified or been Auto Main Draw in all but one AVP tournament since their debut. Three years ago, when Riley broke his hand, Maddison teamed up with Ty Loomis and won the 2017 San Francisco AVP. But as impressive as their skills are in the game, the most remarkable thing about the McKibbins is what they’re doing for beach volleyball.
Most beach players are slightly obsessed with the sport and deeply passionate about growing the game. This manifests for the McKibbins in their YouTube tutorials, vlogs, and story creation around other AVP players to provide background and personality to the Tour.
It all started when the brothers were transitioning to the beach. They’d had years of experience in Hawaii and indoor, but playing on the AVP would require next-level skills. So they did what so many other millennials do when they need advice – they searched it on YouTube. “We knew how to play, but still needed help with all the intricacies,” Riley says. “You can learn how to do anything on YouTube, except for beach volleyball… at the time.” Their searches resulted in next to nothing. There was not one beach volleyball tutorial that had substance and entertainment value. They capitalized on the need for quality, original content that would bring awareness to the game. It also seemed like fun.
The initial idea was simply volleyball how-tos. “We started making tutorials, but we made them fun,” Maddison says. “We never took ourselves too seriously. We know we don’t have the answers; we know we’re not the best team. So we bring in other players to help us and keep it entertaining. It was more for us to keep having fun. Our goal has always been to make stuff that we want to watch.” And they do. The McKibbin YouTube videos are compelling and well-done. They’re made up of solid bits of volleyball information from Olympians and AVP professionals, beautiful shots of the places they play, a rotating cast of characters, and a slew of laugh-out-loud moments. The videos are outstanding. And the internet agrees – the videos are released every Wednesday at noon and quickly garner thousands of views. One of their videos featuring fellow Hawaiian Taylor Crabb just hit the one-million view mark, an outstanding accomplishment for any YouTuber.
“One of the beauties of YouTube is that it’s not a popularity contest,” Riley says. “It’s not about likes. People are searching for how to do stuff, so we’re discoverable.” Whether users need to know how to set a volleyball or want to see behind-the-scenes videos of the brothers and their pro athlete friends on the AVP, the McKibbin Brothers YouTube channel has it all. Both are bringing much-needed awareness to the game: the tutorials teach people how to play; the vlogs make the athletes and the lifestyle more accessible and fun. “We’re always working on storytelling, Maddison says. “We know that’s what makes a good product.”
These stories are what we, as volleyball players, could talk about for hours. We’re a group of passionate, fun, and intelligent people all living, traveling, playing, and sometimes dating each other. There are partner switches and Tour gossip, but there are also deep, meaningful friendships. We have a ton of fun, some of which is due to the McKibbins. They work with local bars and clubs to host players’ parties in all the cities we travel to. The parties – complete with an open bar and fan access – happen on Saturday nights after most teams have finished competing. Every players’ party I’ve been to has been a blast, often lasting well into the night surrounded by people I’ve known for years, some of which I’ve never had the chance to hang out with. It’s the perfect way to bring us all together, and Riley and Maddison make it all happen. The volleyball community owes a lot to these two.