Albert Hannemann has been playing professional beach volleyball for 18 years. Matt Prosser gave up a secure job coaching at his alma mater Long Beach State to chase his dream of playing as a beach pro. Cayley Thurlby shelved her degree and moved to Southern California to make it as an AVP pro.
All of them come from different backgrounds, but they now share a common bond. All three are clueless as to what will become of their beach volleyball careers after the Association of Volleyball Professionals was forced to cancel the remainder of its tour last Friday due to financial constraints.
"The AVP's cancellation hurts everyone the same," Prosser said. "It hurts qualifiers, main draw players, the coaches, the fans."
Beach volleyball is giant in the local sports scene. Tournaments abound during the summer months, and some serious luck is required to find an empty court during the weekends.
In other parts of the country, beach volleyball is considered a niche sport. But for hundreds of professionals and aspiring pros in Hermosa Beach, the sport is a lifestyle. And the AVP's closure is a serious blow to careers and livelihoods.
Hannemann started his career on the AVP tour in 1992. After 18 seasons, the only thing that may stop Hannemann's goal of playing 20 years on the tour will be its existence.
"I've literally based my life around beach volleyball," he said.
Thirteen years ago Hannemann created Volleyball Vacations, which gives recreational players a chance to receive coaching from some of beach volleyball's top players while vacationing in an exotic location. For someone like Hannemann, the AVP's failure is tough to take.
"Beach volleyball was doing so well," he said. "We came off of the Olympics with a ton of momentum but unfortunately that momentum wasn't enough to keep the tour alive. What we need now is a serious sense of urgency to save the sport. It's too early to freak out. We need to wait, let the dust settle, and see where we go from here, but clearly something needs to change."
Hannemann said that he also worries for the younger generation of players who are the key link to the future of beach volleyball.
"It also hurts from a standpoint of where do the young players go from here," he said. Hannemann added that his 9-year-old daughter wants to be a professional beach volleyball player.
"She grew up around the game and loves it as much as I do," he said. "If there's no domestic tour there's less opportunities to play, who are these kids going to look up to as role models when the star players aren't playing here."
Currently, many young players look up to Hannemann, who surely qualifies as a time-tested veteran. Many also look up to a young gun in Thurlby.
Thurlby loved the game of volleyball coming out of the University of Hawaii in 2008, she said, but was unsure of where to focus her passion.
Many high-level Division I indoor athletes are offered contracts to play in professional indoor volleyball leagues overseas, and Thurlby was no exception.
The exception for her came when she turned down those offers to pursue a career as a professional on the AVP tour. A move that offered no guaranteed contracts, and no guaranteed money.
"If you want to play pro beach volleyball you move to Southern California," Thurlby said. "For a young player like myself all of the opportunities are here. You've got the best coaches available, weather that's perfect all year long, and you had the AVP."
Because of the AVP's demise, Thurlby and many other pros must now reevaluate career paths and options.
"I'm at the point now where I have to revisit the idea of signing a contract and going overseas to play on an indoor team," Thurlby said. "The tour shutting down is going to make it really hard on so many players from a financial standpoint. Without prize money there's going to be a lot of players, especially the older ones, who are going to have to retire."
Prosser decided it was time to devote his full attention to the tour in 2008 after playing part-time for six seasons. Coming off the best finish of his career with a second place in the Hermosa Beach Open, Prosser now has some major decisions to make regarding his future in beach volleyball.
And, like Thurlby, he may need to turn his attention overseas so that he can continue to earn a living as a professional. Prosser is considering a run to play in the 2012 Olympic games, but the tour's demise may have serious implications on his plans.
With the AVP no longer in the picture, it's unknown what qualification system USA Volleyball will use to determine Olympic berths, which could mean players will have to play a large number of matches in Europe in order to qualify.
"If I want to try and make a run for the 2012 Olympics, without the AVP, I may have to go over to Europe and play in FIVB tournaments, which would be a huge financial risk if it didn't work out," Prosser said.
Everyone involved in the tour is impacted by this turn of events, Prosser added. The players dedicate hours of their life to playing beach volleyball in practice, training and tournaments. To have it taken away halfway through the season hurts all around, he said.
Most players can only play the painful waiting game in the hopes that the AVP will be re-born next year under new ownership, or a new professional tour will emerge.
"I'm in a state of flux," Prosser said. "I don't know what's going to happen next and all I can do is wait for the next few months for some kind of news or announcement. For now I'm going to stay in shape, keep training so that whatever that news may be, I'll still be ready to play."