East Beach Volleyball Academy
Imagine if your office was a beach. Not on the beach, but an actual beach. How cool would that be? I had a pretty good idea after joining the coaches for East Beach Volleyball Academy, since the numerous weekly classes they stage convene where the sand meets the surf. Founded in September 2016, the academy is going gangbusters.
“We started by offering just one type of class, and now we’re teaching a whole bunch of different ages.” coach Katie Spieler told me. “At first, we featured three classes a week geared toward kids, and now we have as many as 10 weekly, running several different programs throughout the year. For our summer camp, we bring in other top collegiate coaches. There’s also an elite program for players interested in playing at the college level, and we host tournaments through AVP First – which is the youth program for AVP.” Across from Andree Clark’s Bird Refuge at the East Beach volleyball courts, both she and co-founder Dana Kabashima offer instruction to youth and adult alike, in a classroom as appealing as it is instructive.
These beach girls areas professional as they are upbeat. A graduate of the University of Hawaii where she captained the volleyball team, Katie’s skill has been recognized by the athletic world many times over. It didn’t happen overnight, though. “I’ve been playing since I was four. My mom would take me down to the beach, and I just started peppering around with her, which is continuous interplay: pass-set-hit. My mom grew up in a great volleyball era, when Karch Kiraly and John Hanley were playing down at East Beach.” An accomplished player herself, Katie has earned beach volleyball All-American twice, Female Athlete of the Year for the University of Hawaii, and placed among the top 30 for the NCAA’s Female Athlete of the Year as well.
Not satisfied with those impressive achievements, she went on to spike, dig, and set her way into champion status at the 2016 Big West Conference. Experienced playing at the professional and international level on the AVP and NORCECA tours, she recently placed 7th in the Chicago AVP 2016. “This year, my goal is to be in the Main Draw on the AVP tour, which requires finishing in the top 12. A spot in the top echelon pre-qualifies me.” Despite these grand aspirations, the 2nd-generation Santa Barbaran’s proudest moment hits closer to home. “When I played in the AVP event in Hermosa Beach, I played alongside our youth team, who had earned a spot in the national championship. Whenever we got a break in the game, we cheered each other on.” Knowing that we’d provided the opportunity for them to get there was very gratifying.”
“I love working with kids.” Dana concurred. “It’s fun to see kids get excited about their improvement. It’s been great watching this business Katie and I created grow. Santa Barbara is a small community, and the feedback has been so positive, which is really nice,” she said, adding: “We’ve had great turnouts for the monthly AVP First tournaments we host. It’s great to see how many people we’ve trained. A lot of them come in our T-shirts and sweatshirts, and to see them all in one place makes me realize what an impact we’ve made. Before the EBVA, there weren’t any local tournaments during the off-season, but Katie and I met that need. “
Dana was the recipient of the 1000 Career Digs Achievement (digging is defined as diving for a spiked volleyball to prevent it from hitting the ground) and team captain at her University of Villanova too. Awarded 1st Team All-Tournament, the one-time member of the Big East Academic All-Star Team has played professional beach volleyball on the AVP, NVL, and NORCECA tours to boot. A seasoned coach before joining up with Katie to form the academy, the two are volleyball royalty when it comes to instruction about the game’s finer points.
From ages 8 through 80, novice to intermediate, their clinics, camps, and classes show you how to do it all. Need to learn the fundamentals? They got a class for that. The nuances of more advanced play? Ms. Spieler and Ms. Kabashima have you covered. Whether you want to improve your serve, hone your pass, refine your court positioning, or bump up your defense or offense, these ladies got the chops to take your play to the next level. “We’ve had a lot of requests from people to start different classes that are specific to what they are looking for. So now, we have a class for almost every age and skill level,” Katie said. “It was especially surprising to me how many adults wanted instruction. They’d never been coached in beach volleyball and just loved the classes.”
The class I observed underscored that statement. A 4:15 Youth Beginner session, it was perfectly timed to make the most of Daylight Savings. Warmed by the sunshine, I admired the hints of pink trimming the clouds as 12-year-old Isabella explained what she enjoys most about the game. “Dana and Katie are so supportive. They help me learn a lot about volleyball. They really get into detail about how to help you.”
Eleni, 9, chimed in charmingly: “I like feeling the sand between my toes when I’m barefoot.” Proud mom Nicole Becker was beaming too. “We absolutely love it. Right from the start, Eleni loved the enthusiasm of the coaches and her teammates. It’s great to be right at the beach, play a friendly game, and have fun.” Noting her daughter’s ability has markedly improved, she added: “We’re definitely going to enroll again.”
After 15 minutes or more of drills that included running, setting, bumping, and serves, the game began. Many plays I observed during the good-natured exchange were well-executed, especially considering the diminutiveness of some players (negotiating a net slightly lower than regulation height), and it was clear everyone was having a blast – coaches included. And why not? As Dana herself said: “My office is a beach, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
To learn more about the East Beach Volleyball Academy, call (805) 245-4582, or visit them online at www.eastbeachvolleyballacademy.com/. Class times and types are listed, along with email information on their contact page.