Taylor Sander, left, and Taylor Crabb/Mark Rigney photo

HERMOSA BEACH, California — As the 2023 season bled into 2024, and Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour raged on, the Olympic race winding ever tighter, it did not go unnoticed that perhaps the best team in America was nowhere to be found.

Where, it was frequently wondered, were Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander?

It was easier to point out where they were not, and they were very much not on the entry list for events in Montreal and Paris and India and China. They were not in Doha or Recife or Saquarema or Guadalajara. They were not anywhere near the top of the world or Olympic rankings.

What were they doing?

In a word: Living.

Crabb hit New Zealand for two weeks and a pair of tournaments on the domestic tour there. Played golf with Jason Lochhead rather than slog through and Elite16 qualifier in Doha. Hit the Dino with Steven Cahn, better known as Matsa, rather than a Challenge in Guadalajara.

As for Sander? He snowboarded in Utah. Golfed a good bit. Waiting for the AVP season to roll around after a nine-month off-season. Enjoying life.

“For me, I still love playing volleyball. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to the point where I’m like ‘Oh man, volleyball,’” the 32-year-old Sander said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “I still enjoy going out and being challenged every day. Beach volleyball is so hard that I’m still like ‘Man I don’t understand how this is so hard, I do it every day.’ I listened to [Tri Bourne] on your podcast about not going to the Olympics and we were in the same boat, and we were spending a lot of money going to three tournaments, these crappy tournaments where there’s no fans. It’s hard for me, at this stage in my career where we’ve both played in front of thousands and thousands of fans, to go play really good volleyball with no one watching. It’s like, ‘This is crazy!’ Some of the best players in the world, you’re getting a couple hundred people, like the Doha Finals, best players in the world, there’s 50 people in the stands. This is crazy!

“You have to really be self-motivated to go out there and compete with no fans and no adrenaline. You just gotta be good at volleyball. For me, it’s like ‘Dude, this is hard, and you’re spending money and you’re playing for no money. You’re not going to win any money, and you’re playing the best players in the world, so it’s not a walk in the park out there.’

“I wanted to go to the Olympics but you get to the point where I don’t know if this is worth it, I can go enjoy my life a little more stress free. I can find other ways to make more money.”

More important: They can find other ways to make an impact.

They’ve both been to an Olympic Games. Sander’s been to two indoors. Won a bronze in Rio de Janeiro and finished 10th in Tokyo.

It was in Tokyo, in fact, that he and Crabb began floating the idea of Sander switching to beach. Crabb had qualified with Jake Gibb but tested positive for COVID and was ruled out. Even without playing in the Olympics themselves, he had been through the near-two-year grind that is Olympic qualifying. He knows, and acknowledges, the accomplishment that it is to represent the United States in an Olympic Games. But Tokyo also served as a bit of a wake-up call: There’s more to this sport than a single tournament every four years.

“In the back of my mind, Tokyo pushed me away a little bit more,” said Crabb, whose brother, Trevor, is in an airtight race with Chase Budinger and Miles Evans for the final qualifying spot for the Paris Games. “It’s a great accomplishment, for every athlete that’s a dream. There’s more to life than that, and I’m not trying to diminish the Olympics at all, for beach volleyball players, it’s one of the hardest tournaments to actually get to and qualify for and it’s a grind. You’re seeing it right now. That’s wild. This brings me so much joy to watch, them grinding. We know how it feels and it’s a lot, mentally and physically.”

This has been a mindset espoused by Crabb for years. A month before the Tokyo Olympics, when he and Gibb had locked up their spot, he spoke about the importance of the four years in between each Games, how his big-picture goal is to build the tournaments and events and culture in non-Olympic years — the years in which he and all of his peers make their living.

He’s doing just that.

Take a look at a schedule of beach volleyball tournaments, from the Elite to the obscure to the, ahem, not-strictly-legal, and there’s a fair chance you’ll find Crabb there. Though it still surprises him, he’s becoming aware of his star power, the impact he can have on someone who watches him play the game as only he, one of the most supremely gifted players to touch the sand, can play.

“We’re seeing the fans and other people who look at me and the best compliment I can ever get is that I’m an inspiration to them,” said Crabb, who in 2023 earned his fifth AVP Best Defensive Player. “That’s starting to trickle away from my own personal accomplishments to bringing joy to other people’s lives. It’s amazing that I can have that power to do that outside of volleyball.”

So when he saw the AVP schedule and only three major tournaments, he didn’t complain about there not being enough. He made his own. He and Sander formed a non-profit arm of their new venture, Celebrity Sideout, a weekend-long event in which players of all levels and shapes and sizes can try their hand at beating Crabb and Sander — and then get taught by them in a clinic the next day, all of which is followed by an after-party.

He knew that with the lighter AVP schedule, American fans would be starved for volleyball content. So he made his own. He and Troy Field launched a new show, THE RIGHT SiiiDE, providing a window into practices, film rooms, exhibition matches — anything volleyball-related.

“People want to watch volleyball. They love volleyball,” Crabb said. “With this year, how it all started, was we didn’t have many tournaments. So how could we create this thing where we could give fans access to something to watch more volleyball? Watch us play, watch us train, learn about the game, where it’s watching us play or talking about the gamer with old players. That’s kind of it in a nutshell. We want to get to a point where we can livestream our own practices and people can watch and see what we’re working on, learn what we’re learning, and watch matches with us.”

Even during their win in Huntington Beach last weekend, Crabb — well, mostly Field, as Crabb readily acknowledges — kept the content flowing. They streamed the qualifier matches, pumped out videos, provided behind the scenes access. They’ll be doing the same at the non-major events as well, smaller tournaments in Denver and Waupaca and maybe Virginia Beach, tournaments with lower prize money and not much incentive, tournaments most top players avoid.


Because it’s volleyball.

Because they want to.

“It’s another tournament for us to play in,” Crabb said.

Another opportunity to build the sport at home, where both of them want to be.


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