Class of 2019
From the early 70s to the mid 80s, when you'd take the court for a tournament final, there was a ritual. A heavily muscled man in a wrinkled hat would assemble the players and have them pose for a photo op. It seemed ridiculous to the young players who were pretty sure their athleticism and glory would be permanently theirs. But as it turns out, vertebrae and shoulder girdles, hips and knees eventually break down, and only those photographs (and a few blurry memories) are all that remain from those heated beach conflicts. And Bob Van Wagner is the photographer who chronicled so many of our sport's precious moments for us all to treasure.
Sometimes he would climb down the pole from the ref's seat to snap the shot, as he was a frequent official at some beaches. But from the eras of Selznick, Saenz and Bright, through Lang/Von Hagen, Bergmann/Riffiero, Lee/Menges, Karch/Singin, Stokey/Smith, Hov/Dodd and beyond... it was often Van Wagner, nicknamed Crank, who caught the moments on film. On his home sands of East Beach in Santa Barbara, he'd be there for lower level and masters tournaments as well. Weekdays, decades of them, he'd rarely miss a dip in the Pacific, and bellow with a smile, "I've got winners. We're next up!"
He was quirky, a proud military veteran, and one of our sport's most ardent devotees. Now in his 90's, his swims and visits to the shore are rare, but his love of the game is still strong. "Getting old is not for the weak," he warns us all. And his photo files still animate most visual reflections of the rich history of beach volleyball. We who lived through it, and those who need to remember past chapters and heroes, owe Bob Van Wagner a hearty thanks. And never forget, he's got winners.