March 10, 2022, Tampa, FL - It rains up to 47 inches per year in Eugene, Oregon. And it's not the warm rain, either, the type that’ll sprinkle down, or come in buckets, from the Florida or Carolina skies. Pleasant, really. Such is not the case in Eugene, which makes the Pacific Northwest city a difficult environment in which to play as much beach volleyball as possible.
So in 2017, after a lifetime of living in the plush but wet beauty of Oregon, Isabella Thayer-Persaud made the move from Eugene to Tampa "to get," as she said," some more sunshine and volleyball." She had no idea just how much of both she'd be getting.
Shortly after moving to Tampa, Thayer-Persaud played in a New Year's Eve tournament at Treasure Island, a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico with a population of just north of 6,584. There, she met a man named Prem Persaud, who had initially been one of the founders of Tampa Bay Beach Bums and was doing marketing and promotional work for the Sunshine State Outdoor Volleyball Association (SSOVA).
A few years later, before the onset of the COVID pandemic, SSOVA's founder, Sam Cibrone, sought a buyer for the organization. Thus Isabella and Prem, who hit it off that New Year's evening at Treasure Island, took over, living a life replete with sunshine and beach volleyball. Well, kind of.
Due to the COVID lockdowns, SSOVA couldn't run any events until November of 2020.
"We were back at Siesta Key and we've been running one to two tournaments a month, every month since then," Thayer-Persaud said. "We’re just in it to grow the sport. I've been playing volleyball since I was 7 or 8 and it's been an integral part of my life ever since – indoor, not beach. It's a little rainy in Oregon and so we're in it to grow the sport and make a positive impact on the community."
And a positive impact is being made. SSOVA is, of course, a beach volleyball organization putting on beach volleyball tournaments. This weekend, it's hosting the biggest open tournament around the country, boasting a $5,000 purse where it all began: Treasure Island.
The entry list is predictably filling up with AVP and FIVB veterans and tremendous up and coming talent: Ben Vaught and Branden Clemens, Marty Lorenz and rising start Caleb Kwekel, Dylan Zacca and Ryan Lehman, Justin Phipps and his new young blocker, Joseph Reysen. On the women's side, Brazilians Larissa and Lili Maestrini lead the pack, which also includes Pottstown champs, Lydia Smith and Aurora Davis, Jade Race and Tiffany Creamer, Regan McGuire and Delaney Clesen, Adrianna Nora and Ashley McGinn.
But SSOVA's impact is far bigger than simply shelling out some prize money and throwing a tournament. As Thayer-Persaud mentioned: "I’m from Eugene, and it’s a little bit hippie there in a sense. I just wanted to bring those values over here."
Each Sunday features not just beach volleyball, but a beach cleanup. They're dedicated to helping charities when they can. At every tournament you can find a "150-gallon tank called the Water Monster that provides clean, filtered water because we’re trying to cut down on people using bottled water and creating massive waste and also so the players stay hydrated because Florida is hot," Thayer-Persaud said. "We like to leave the beach better than we found it so we run beach cleanups every Sunday and juniors get volunteer hours. We do charities as often as we can. We're just trying to do what we can to make the tournaments better for the players and better for the environment. We promote the messaging throughout the day, telling people to leave it better than you found it, to clean up, be kind. I have a side group called the Green Peacemakers that we created here so we're creating more education for the beach cleanups, sea turtle etiquette, things like that. Even something like leaving a hole in the sand can impact the sea turtles' ability to lay eggs so we’re trying to educate people on what's going on while trying to make a super fun day with quality beach volleyball."
SSOVA is even helping to improve the quality of volleyball, too. With the aid of new sponsor, Pride Strength Training, there is a pop-up gym for warm-up and activation. Massage therapists are on the sidelines at numerous tournaments.
As it turns out, a little hippie vibe goes well with beach volleyball.
"We're on the beach all the time," Isabella said. "I didn’t think it would be to the extreme like this but I am super happy about it."
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew