Jake Gibb’s rise to becoming half of the No. 1 men’s team entering the AVP New Orleans Open started thousands of miles away from the Laketown complex in Kenner.
Gibb, 6-foot-7 teenager from Bountiful, Utah, played one season of club volleyball as a high school senior. He was a big, coordinated kid who had no clue how to play the sport.
He didn’t play the game again — indoor or beach — until he returned to the United States after a two-year Mormon mission in Costa Rica in 1997.
Back in Utah, he started playing in his backyard with friends. That’s where his journey with beach volleyball transformed from what he considered a women’s sport to his passion, his career. What makes him great in the eyes of millions. How he provides for his wife and two kids.
“We had a water hose for lines, a droopy net,” Gibbs said Friday afternoon at Laketown after competition was postponed until 7 a.m. Saturday. “I just fell in love with it.”
And it with him.
He started playing in tournaments, and winning some in Utah.
Later, Mike Daniel, also a Utah native, paid for Gibb’s flights to tournaments as the duo competed against California teams.
“It was his dream,” Gibb said. “I kind of went along with it.”
Later, it became Gibb’s goal when he moved to California and realized he could compete.
By the time Gibb graduated in information systems from the University of Utah, he was one of the best players in the state.
Yet instead of aiming for a entry-level job in his field, he opted to head to California to chase a new dream — to play professional beach volleyball.
Utah and Southern California might as well be separated by galaxies.
“I got pretty good support, but not from all; not from my wife’s family entirely,” said Gibb, who married at age 24. “Some were asking, ‘What are you doing’ because my wife took up two jobs while I went to the beach and trained to try to play volleyball. I wasn’t earning any money.
“You kind of see who believes in you at that point. And I had a lot of people saying, ‘Dude, when are you going to get a real job?’ ”
Gibb decided to give beach volleyball two years. He was 24.
Raising the bar
In 2002, Gibb created small goals.
At least, he aimed small, hoping to make a living on the pro circuit.
Now, let’s see if he can become one of the best U.S. players.
Done. What else?
All right. How about the Oympics?
Fast forward to this weekend in Kenner.
Now 39, Gibb has earned more than $1.3 million in his pro career, spanning 15 years. He’s a two-time Olympian, having placed fifth in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) with former partner Sean Rosenthal.
From 2004-09, Gibb was one of two AVP players to win at least one title every year. He’s also won 27 AVP tournaments.
“It’s crazy how it all developed, but it was like incremental,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was some prodigy. I wasn’t great out of high school.
“But I just continued to get better.”
Gibb’s journey has also included winning battles against skin cancer (2004) and testicular cancer (2010).
“When you get cancer twice, you can say, ‘Why me?’ or say ‘What is it I need to change?’ ”
Gibb did the latter and has improved his nutrition habits.
Hard work pays off
In 2013, Gibb teamed up with current partner Casey Patterson, an agreement which has refreshed Gibb’s game while teaching the younger Patterson (age 35) training methods away from the net, from gym workouts to studying match film of future opponents.
They enter the AVP New Orleans Open with eight tournament wins in 14 appearances. The duo has finished third or better at all but one tour stop.
Patterson brings fire, fun and energy, helping to remind Gibb why he plays the game. Gibbs, in turn, offers structure, which gives his younger teammate more chances to treat the barefoot job, walking in sand like a career.
“Jake is a professional in every sense of the word,” Patterson said. “He helps me kind of dial in that side of the game.”
Gibbs enjoys the game, but he also treats the sport, like a business. Because it is business.
“Every year I see these young kids, these 7-footers coming out of college that want to push me out my spot,” Gibb said. “And last year at 38, I was the MVP of the AVP. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not because I’m better than them. The reason is I work harder than them.”