HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Over a grill smoking with a soon-to-be medium rare picanha, salted to perfection by a cadre of tanned Brazilians, I had something of a laugh out loud epiphany.
“Nothing I’m doing today,” I told Tri Bourne, “really existed five years ago.”
I cannot confirm such a statement as a fact, but I am not aware of anyone else who has previously claimed the job title of Beach Volleyball Writer/Player/Podcaster/Commentator.
The only writing being done on the sport at the time our podcast was founded, in October of 2017, was the occasional story in the Los Angeles Times or Orange County Register, or the quarterly edition of DiG Magazine, which stopped printing during COVID. Five years ago, I’d never won a set in an AVP qualifier, much less actually qualified. There was no beach volleyball-specific podcast, though the Net Live and Coach Your Brains Out, close cousins of SANDCAST, though not exclusively beach, did exist. And, sure, there was some commentating being done on the World Tour, but on the AVP? Much of it was largely Bourne winging it on the Facebook livestream (remember those days?).
“The definition of blue ocean strategy,” Bourne said, referencing the concept of essentially inventing your own market, rather than competing with untold numbers of others to climb the corporate ranks. This deliciously blue and sandy ocean of mine didn’t come on its own, of course. In fact, almost every aspect of my life, be it professional or personal, can be attributed, in some way or other, as the product of a single word:
For five years now, Bourne and I have been running SANDCAST, our weekly beach volleyball podcast that has published every single Wednesday 261 times in a row and counting. We’ve recorded episodes in three different studios and two houses, not to mention the many we’ve managed on the road, in Cancun, Bulgaria, Russia, Texas, wherever. We’ve added two members of the family — Naia Bourne, now three; and Delaney Mewhirter, with whom I’ve now been married for nearly three years, and whose first appearance on the podcast came when her surname was Knudsen.
We’ve had good episodes and bad. The audio has covered the full spectrum from a soothing richness — that’s a recent upgrade — to cringe-inducing awful — that was our first four and a half years, and we love all of you listeners for sticking it out with us. Our video went from nothing to blurry to now crystal clear, with top of the line equipment we still really don’t know how to use. Maybe in five years we’ll have that dialed, too.
We’ve had plenty of gaffes and the occasional moment of deep insight. We’ve had thousands of laughs and even some tears, most of them happy. We’ve built deeper, lasting friendships with our hundreds of guests, an accomplished sort that includes nearly everyone who has achieved something of note in this game and is comfortable enough with the English language to chat about it.
The podcast we never thought would turn into much of anything, aside from a relief to Bourne’s boredom during his autoimmune years, has become a critical cornerstone of both of our lives.
“SANDCAST and the Bournes,” Delaney said during our five-year anniversary episode. “Those have been the most consistent parts of our relationship.”
Oh, yes, you can file our marriage under the “Influenced by SANDCAST tab” as well. Midway through the first year of our podcast, Tri was still out with his autoimmune disease, but he came down to AVP Austin in 2018 anyway, to experiment with different content avenues for the podcast, none of which would actually see the light of day. I wound up making the main draw — my first — and we squeezed six people into an SUV: Jill and Avery Bush, Tri, Raffe Paulis, Delaney and myself.
Meeting Delaney was one thing, but eventually marrying her was, quite obviously, another matter entirely. The fact that we were able to continue dating between May of 2018 and February of 2020, when we got married, was helped largely by our waystation in the middle: Tri and Gabby Bourne. At the time, I lived in Costa Mesa, Delaney in Malibu. We’d try to get together once a week, on nights I drove up to Hermosa, the halfway point between the two, to record an episode.
“You guys really facilitated this blossoming relationship,” Delaney said, laughing.
“All part of the plan,” Bourne said. “Matchmaker right here.”
You did not meet your wife because of our podcast (I think, though if you did, that’s a story that needs telling). But if you’ve watched me play in a main draw, or heard my voice on Volleyball TV, or read my writing on Volleyball World or here at VolleyballMag.com (and wherever else it has randomly appeared) then you have watched, read, or listened to the ripple effects of SANDCAST. I can assure you that I am not the writer, commentator, and storyteller I have become in this sport without having my weekly platform to do essentially whatever we want — try new styles, get comfortable on camera, tell stories about the same athletes in dozens of different ways, build rapport. Bullshit, basically, and figure stuff out. I can also assure you that I probably wouldn’t have slipped into any of those roles, only one of which I’ve actually been trained to do, without the podcast.
As a player, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the undersized blocker I am today without our weekly episode, in which I am able to pick the brains of the greatest players and minds in this game and apply it to my own, not to mention the proximity I have to Tri on an almost-daily basis, seeing his work ethic, his drills, his routines, his everything that has turned him into one of the finest talents of this generation of Americans. Am I going to win an Olympic gold medal? No. Am I ever going to win the most AVP titles in any given season? No. Will I ever win an AVP? Probably not, unless you count a Tour Series (I do not). But am I writing this from South Africa, the day before competing in an Elite 16, the highest level there is? Absolutely.
That’s the podcast’s doing.
“I see what Travis is doing,” Tri said on an episode recently. “He comes out to our practices, steals our coaching, then is here on the podcast once a week. I see what you’re doing.”
But the beauty of the podcast is that it isn’t just for Tri and I. It’s for everyone who cares to listen. It’s for those who had seen Molly Turner get a lot of solid results this season but didn’t have a way of actually getting to know her. We have her on the podcast one week, and two weeks later, she wins a silver medal in Dubai.
“This a one of my new favorite episodes,” Chris Wilson wrote to us. “She’s one of those players whose name I see all the time but have never really gotten to watch and know.”
Now you know. Just as you can know all about Deahna Kraft being slightly OCD — and poking fun of herself for it — or that Zana Muno raises chickens, or that April Ross is a secret prophetess. You can know all about why Kyle Friend just wants to make volleyball easier for everyone around him, and you can laugh yourself into cramps from Theo Brunner’s dry wit. You can join the Sophie Bukovec Fan Club, as she talked openly and genuinely about surprising herself this year, and you can join us on a deep dive into the incredible mind of Kent Steffes.
Now you know, tactically, why Phil Dalhausser thinks Anders Mol is actually better than he ever was — that episode is to come; had to tease it! — and you can get a look behind the curtain at the very real struggle Bourne and Trevor Crabb had on the road this year. Now you know that Trevor and Taylor Crabb are as close of friends as you’ll ever meet, and the hilarious story of Taylor Crabb and John Hyden shoving one another in Fort Lauderdale.
When we initially began this podcast, we established a brief mission statement, something to refocus us if we ever wavered too far from our original intent: A beach volleyball podcast, for the players, by the players. Some fans want us to dig deeper, to act as journalists, to ask the tough questions about partner switches, personal lives, the sting of ugly losses. That’s not us. We’re here for the players, and if they don’t want to talk about a certain issue, we don’t ask them about it. I believe that’s why many are happy to come hang out with us for an hour every year or so: They know this show is really for them, which makes it for you, the listener, too, because I believe we see sides and shades of these players’ personalities you won’t see on the court or in the limited interactions you’ll get off of it.
Is your life going to be monumentally changed because of our podcast? Probably not. But I believe we’ve provided some good in this sport, through all of our miscues and gaffed audio and those times we forgot to press record again, dammit. How long we will go, who knows. When we began this thing five years ago, I didn’t plan on any of the legitimately life-changing benefits that have come with it, and I won’t begin now. I’ll just keep hanging with Tri, and whoever we’re chatting with that week, and we’ll keep pumping out episodes, hopefully 261 more.
If five years of SANDCAST got us this far, who knows where we’ll be at 10?