Bearded Brothers: Siblings Team Up and Take It On

The McKibbin brothers playing beach volleyball

Maddison and Riley McKibbin, brothers and teammates, have been playing volleyball together since high school. In fact, they are the only brothers to have played together in both high school, college, indoor professional, and professional beach volleyball.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Maddison and ask him some questions -- mostly about the beards. But more on that in a bit...

Maddison and Riley have played professional volleyball together since 2013 in Italy, Greece, and are now continuing the adventure on home turf, in California with the Association for Volleyball Professionals (AVP). We wanted to kick off Waiakea’s June #SweatClean campaign with the McKibbin brothers, a true exhibition of what it means to relentlessly pursue a dream in the face of setbacks and injuries, and focus with which they’ve done it.

Upon first meeting the McKibbin brothers, the beards are impossible to go unmentioned; similar in shape, size, and color, Maddison and Riley have definitely cultivated these bristles with a purpose.

Sophia: So what’s the significance of the beards?

The McKibbin brothers with their arms around each other

Maddison: Well we never really planned for it, but there’s actually a lot of significance, and it all goes back to college.

We would always have to shave at USC [University of Southern California]. Our Coach wanted us clean cut for a lot of reasons; so after graduation, we left for Greece to play professional indoor volleyball and suddenly we had all of this freedom and the beards just started to happen. Let me tell you, the four month mark is really awkward; not attractive...but there we were in Greece, spoke no Greek, and so the chances of finding a girlfriend were pretty slim.

The beards started to get us attention. We were known as the bearded brothers. I have this habit of always touching my beard {said as he twirls his mustache between finger tips} that become an inside joke on the team, haha. It was an icebreaker and gave us Americans some personality.

S: Any specific stories come to mind?

M: After 1 year abroad playing indoor volleyball, it was time to come home to the US. We rocked up looking like we’d been washed up from nowhere, signed up to play a couple of beach volleyball tournaments with the goal of playing on the AVP, and that’s when the beards really started working in our favor.

We’ll never forget the game we played in New York in 2015; no one knew who we were, but we’d made the draw, and were playing in the qualifier. The crowd really started rooting for us; we were the underdogs, brothers, and had gnarly beards. They were chanting “The Beard Says No!” whenever we got a kill.

The night before that game in NY, we got a call that our Nana had passed away. Emotions were high, moral low. That coincided with an email from the AVP notifying us we had the option to have a coach on the court. We elected our 15 year old brother, Jameson, who had joined us for the trip and originally planned to watch the game from the bleachers. Overnight we were a team of 3 brothers. Jameson had the opportunity to sit next to Olympians in the players tent as the first 15 year old coach of AVP. It was a very memorable experience.

S: What would justify a shave?

M: Haha, girlfriends have never liked the beards. It’s actually a good screening process to be honest.

One of the McKibbin brothers spiking

But seriously-- being recognizable in a sport that is hard to be recognized in has been an advantage. In volleyball, if you’re not an Olympian, there’s no distinguishing factor. In the 80’s and 90’s you had personalities in pro volleyball --- neon short shorts, real a*#holes, a lot of different personalities, but AVP has seemed to have lost those. I’m not saying we’re those personalities now, but it’s definitely weird seeing two amish long beards on the court.

We’d consider shaving for the right a huge sponsorship, haha.

S: What’s the funniest thing you’ve found in your beard?

M: I will say that I look at food a lot differently now. There’s beard friendly food, and beard unfriendly food. Eggs over easy… I only eat at home.

S: From an insider’s perspective, what do you think is the biggest challenge when pursuing volleyball as a profession?

M: Making ends meet. I’m always intrigued to hear what others do on the side. A lot of players are waiters, uber drivers, or coaches. It’s probably a pretty similar lifestyle to acting.

S: What keeps you focused on your goal? Is there a greater, philosophical purpose here to playing volleyball beyond just the love for it?

M: We played indoor volleyball professionally our whole lives up until moving to California and joining the AVP. Indoor volleyball is a team of 6, whereas playing beach volleyball is a team of 2; Riley and myself. Being able to compete against another team with your brother by your side really creates this exhilarating energy. It’s us against the world, you know? Sometimes we’ll tell each other: “Is it kamakazi time? It’s kamakazi time!”

You have to develop grit on the beach. There's no substitutions. If you're playing poorly, you're the only person that can get yourself out of that situation.

“We’re not in it to win it, but we will.”

S: Other than playing volleyball, how do you like to sweat and stay in shape?

M: To be honest, having a sponsorship with Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California has been a total game changer. We’re in the best shape we’ve ever been. We have a trainer Chelsea Hayes who is very knowledgeable and has us do full body strength conditioning supplemented with core stabilization and joint mobilization. This sponsorship has made getting to the next level seem attainable, and the beards are probably why we got the the sponsorship in the first place...but that’s another story, haha.

S: What are you ranked currently and where do you want to be by the end of the season? How do you plan on achieving it?

M: Right now we’re in the qualifier. The goal is to be a main draw team by the end of the season (top 12).

How we’ll achieve it? Hard work every day, consistent and smart training, and just putting our heads to the ground and focusing on all the things we can actually control.

Follow Riley and Maddison McKibbin on Instagram as they play in Seattle, New York, and San Francisco: @mmckibbi and @riley_mack4

The McKibbin brothers drinking Waiakea and spinning a volleyball on their finger

Riley and Maddison McKibbin, originally from Oahu, have been a part of Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water's ohana since January 2016. In support of Waiakea's #SweatClean Summer Series, where we highlight the stories of athletes and influencers pursuing big goals with purpose and authenticity, Riley and Maddison will be taking over Waiakea's SnapChat for a virtual scavenger hunt on June 26th for a chance to win a trip for 2 to Hawai'i. Click here for more details on how to enter! Contest ends June 26th, 2016.