Q+A: Karch Kiraly Is Out to Save Volleyball

Last year, the AVP folded, leaving professional beach volleyball in the hands of smaller series like Karch Kiraly’s Corona Light Wide Open Tour. The culminating event of that circuit, the U.S. Open, is leaving California for the first time this year, with play scheduled for Cincinnati’s Hahana Beach over Labor Day Weekend. We asked Kiraly, the only man to win both indoor and sand gold medals, why our beach-less town is so crazy about beach volleyball.

It’s 7 a.m. on the West Coast. Is it safe to say you’re staying busy? Absolutely. I’m on my way in to the U.S.A. gym. I’m assistant coach of the women’s indoor national team. I’m headed to another day of practice, trying to get better in a quest for the U.S. women to do something they’ve never done before, which is stand at the top of the podium at the Olympics.
Do you still play? I do not play very often. I stopped competing about four years ago on the AVP Tour [at age 46]. I got to compete more than I ever possibly dreamed, and my body is enjoying the rest tremendously. When I do play, it’s for fun. I play with my wife or our kids.
Let’s talk about the U.S. Open. Why Cincinnati? People who don’t know might be surprised to hear what a tremendous following beach volleyball has in Cincinnati. The crowds are some of the most enthusiastic that I’ve ever seen. For a number of years, there was a big pro beach event held in Cincinnati, and I remember the athletes just literally getting mobbed for autographs. The competitors appreciate when people are that excited about them coming into town. People only get to see some of the best in the world maybe once a year.

And Cincinnati has a great community of sand players, too. One of the things I’m impressed with, when I’ve visited Cincinnati before, is how popular sand volleyball venues are. Every evening they seem to be maxed out. There are just hundreds of people who can’t get enough beach volleyball. What a great combination of having the sand, having your friends, having a little dinner, enjoying some libations. You’re also combining it with a healthy lifestyle because beach volleyball is such great exercise.

You’ve increased the purse for the tournament to $150,000 this year. Is that an effort to draw better players? It’s not so much to draw a higher caliber player, but it’s in response to the knowledge that there will be a higher number of higher caliber athletes there. Previous U.S. Opens probably had fewer of the top players competing. With the disappearance of the AVP, this year’s focus is more toward the top competitors of the game. They deserve as much prize money as we can responsibly afford.

What’s your take on the current pro beach volleyball landscape? What needs to happen going forward? Events need to be run in a financially viable manner. Also, events need to stay somewhat true to the roots of the game, the roots being in Southern California and a little bit rebellious. A lot of it is about the vibe of the beach lifestyle. Certainly, what we’re doing on the Corona Light Wide Open Tour is aimed at that, and the U.S. Open is the crowning event of the work we’ve done over the last five or six years to try to build the sport.

As a coach, what advice would you give to aspiring beach players? The best way to learn the game is to play the game, a lot, and to play against people who are better than you. Even just watch people who are better than you and study what they do. I used to go down when I was a kid to the Santa Barbara Open, and I loved seeing what all the top players did. Then I would go out there and try to emulate them.

Sept 2–4 at Hahana Beach, 7605 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, usopenbeachvolleyball.com.
Illustration by Pablo
Originally published in the September 2011 issue.

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