SALT LAKE CITY — You might think that because the AVP Beach Volleyball tour is coming to town this weekend — to Liberty Park, to be specific — that beach volleyball star Jake Gibb had something to do with it. After all, the Utah native has been one of the top AVP players for the past decade.
But Gibb was just as surprised — happily surprised — as anyone when Salt Lake City was chosen as the first stop on the AVP Beach Volleyball tour, a seven-tournament circuit that runs until October.
"I'm stoked. I didn't really believe they would have it here," Gibb said Wednesday afternoon as he prepared to practice on one of the new sand courts on the east side of Liberty Park. "I've played professionally for 14 years and when they dropped Salt Lake City on me, I about lost it. I'm excited — really excited."
Gibb, a native of Bountiful, has been one of the top beach volleyball players, not only in the United States, but the world for several years. The 37-year-old has played in two Olympics and is coming off his best season when he and his partner were ranked No. 1 in the world. He and new partner Casey Patterson will be one of the favored men's teams this weekend.
So what happened to his old partner, Sean Rosenthal?
"For lack of a better word, he dumped me," Gibb said. "I got dumped after a No. 1 year. He partnered with Phil Dalhausser, (who is) the same age as him, so they could have seven great years together."
Gibb understands the reason for the breakup since he is four years older, but he would love nothing more than to beat Rosenthal and Dalhausser this week and anytime they play. (So far he is 1-2 against them.)
The Rosenthal-Dalhausser team enters as the No. 1 seed in this week's event, while Gibb-Patterson is No. 2.
"We are friends, but it makes an interesting dynamic when we get on the court. We want to beat each other so badly, it's almost palpable," he said. "It's a friendly, really strong rivalry, but once we step inside the blue lines, it's on."
Gibb is thrilled with his new partner, Patterson, a former BYU volleyball player from Southern California.
"It's been fun," Gibb said. "He's young and full of energy. He's never taken even a top 10 in the world until this year, and now we have a gold in Shanghai and two silvers. We've done well. He was a kid who just needed an opportunity, and I took a little risk on him and it's paying off."
Patterson, who didn't start playing serious beach volleyball until after college, is grateful for the opportunity to play with one of the best.
"I had the opportunity to watch him a lot when I was in college and growing up playing the game, so it's fun to get a chance to play with him," Patterson said.
Gibb is a late bloomer himself in volleyball. He played golf and basketball in high school and didn't play sports at the University of Utah, where he earned a business degree.
"I started in the backyard playing on the grass with my friends," he said. "We'd grab a garden hose and make a line and had a real droopy net and we played."
When he found he had a talent for beach volleyball in his 20s, Gibb moved to Southern California and turned pro in 2000. His career took off and, by 2005, he was the MVP of the AVP. He's been one of the top players on the circuit ever since, topped off by his 2012 season.
"It takes a long time to get the full skill set for beach volleyball," he said. "In indoor you can specialize, but in outdoor there's only two men and you have to have every skill."
Gibb acknowledges that most beach volleyball players hit their peak between the ages of 30 and 35. But then he adds, "I have a good strength coach, so I happened to peak at 36."
That doesn't mean he doesn't has a few good years left. He notes that "four or five" players from the last Olympics were in their 40s and he plans to play with Patterson in the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro when he'll be 40 years old.
"I'm going to play as long as I can provide for my family," he said. "As long as I feel I can still win opens, I'm going to keep playing."
Although he now lives in Huntington Beach, Calif., Gibb said he "is proud of my Utah roots" and adds, "I love it here and wish I could come back more."
His wife Jane is from Kaysville and the couple has a 2-year-old son.
Gibb encourages local fans to come out to see this weekend's tournament, where they will witness an experience they don't get from television.
"I think it's a completely different experience live than it is on TV," he says. "It's way better live. There's a full atmosphere and lifestyle that goes with beach volleyball.
"It's a beach vibe, a party. You've got live music going; you've got big sponsor tents giving away free stuff; good-looking girls in bikinis. What else do you need? It's a cool atmosphere. When (people) come and see it, they get sold on it."
Matches will be played all day Friday and Saturday beginning at 10 a.m., with the women's finals set for 2 p.m. Sunday, followed by the men's final at 3 p.m. Tickets for the event are $10 for a full day or $25 for the entire tournament.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company