My Journey to a Far-Off Place Called The Hague

Ryan Doherty takes us with him as he experiences The Hague Grand Slam

Ryan Doherty
"When I got lost, this nice tall man named Nelson offered to walk me back to my hotel." -Ryan Doherty

Hello, my name is Ryan Doherty and I’m a professional beach volleyball player who is currently partnered with 2008 Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers. As one of the newest Americans to be competing in international beach volleyball tournaments run by the FIVB (and operator of the greatest blog ever blogged, ryan-doherty.com), I was asked by the good people at Volleyball magazine to share my gift of gab with their readers. And I can’t say that I blame them. (It would be wrong not to share my writing with the world.) So I am going to explain what a trip on the international tour is like by documenting my experiences at the 2013 Transavia The Hague Grand Slam.

First, let me give you a little geographical background. The Hague (pronounced Hoo-gee*) is the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands and is the location of the International Criminal Court—where individuals are tried for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes—and the International Court of Justice, the judicial arm of the United Nations. The Netherlands’ main exports are tulips and wooden shoes. (Really, I have no idea what their main exports are.) Confusingly, when I ask people where they are from, they can answer Holland, the Netherlands, The Hague, or say they are Dutch, and it all means the same thing. (Just pick a title already, ya wacky tulip lovers.) It really is a beautiful country: crisp, refreshing air with tons of green trees, cobblestone sidewalks, and old buildings.

I had never been to Europe before this trip, so I was excited to see where all of that “history” stuff comes from. The 10 hour flight was pretty good as British Airways was nice enough to give me an emergency-exit row seat and has the cutest flight attendants of any airline I’ve flown so far. (Which means I’m now going to be connecting all my flights through Heathrow.)

Since I forgot to organize my free shuttle from the airport to the main hotel, (Another dumb travel mistake by me, kinda like booking a 35-hour travel itinerary back from China.) I had to grab a cab to the Bel Air Hotel when I landed. Surprisingly, I ended up getting a fully-loaded Mercedes as my taxi. If anything, I could say that this cab was rare. But I thought, “Nah, forget it. Yo Homes, to Bel Air.” (I honestly did say that last part to the cab driver when I got to the Bel Air Hotel, and it made me laugh even harder that he didn’t get the reference.) I pulled up to the place at about 7 or 8, and I yelled to the cabbie, “Yo Homes, smell ya later.”

I met Todd in the room and got settled. It was a decent hotel room with a good shower, and they were even nice enough to borrow some beds from Barbie’s Dreamhouse for us to sleep on. (It really doesn’t make any sense that the beds were 6' x 4' since everyone in the Netherlands is tall.) We grabbed a nice dinner at a local restaurant and then crashed for the night.

When I say “crashed” I mean slept for an unbelievable amount of time. I still haven’t figured out the trick to avoiding jetlag, so I ended up sleeping for 14 hours. Once we got moving, we met up with Jake “Spiker” Gibb and Casey “Ninja” Patterson in the lobby and decided to go grab lunch together before heading down to the event site. Spiker was the only one of us who had been to The Hague before, and he remembered eating at a great soup and sandwich place not far from our hotel. Thanks to Jake’s stellar sense of direction, (Apparently we turned right on Van Boetzelaerlaan instead of Van Lumeystraat, which led us all the way down to Van Hoornbeekstaat.) we got an impromptu walking tour of the city before finding the lunch shop that was about two blocks from our hotel. After a nice lunch, we headed over to the beach where the tournament was being held.

The tournament site was very impressive. Around the two main outer courts they set up huge decks with giant pillows for the spectators. And the stadium was equally cool, with a DJ and cheerleaders and convertible smart cars serving as the players’ benches. (And before you make your lame “tall joke,” yes, I fit in the smart car bench.) The players’ area was a huge tent with tons of couches and food, which was a great place to chill out before or after a match. After a light practice, we headed back to the hotel to get some dinner and prepare for the next day’s match.

Now, Newton’s Third Law of Motion tells us that, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” (Did I sound smart with that line? That’s what I was going for.) So when my action is to sleep for 14 hours the first night, the apparent reaction is for me to be wide awake and starving at 3 a.m. the next night. I ended up taking a book into the hall and reading until about 6, when I figured I would rest my eyes for an hour in bed before breakfast was served. Next thing I know, Todd is yelling, “Hey, the shuttle to the site leaves in 20 minutes!” and I realize that I just slept until 1:40 in the afternoon. (Remember that feeling of sleeping through your alarm when you were a kid and then waking up in a panic? Still sucks as an adult.) Thankfully, I was able to grab a couple pieces of fruit before we played our match at 3 p.m.

Our first match of the tournament was against the German team of Fuchs and Kaczmarek. Fuchs has also played with defending Olympic gold medalist Julius Brink, and is one of the most physical players on the tour. (That’s probably how he got his name. People just kept saying, “Fuchs, that guy jumps high.”)

For the two or three of you who aren’t familiar with my website and writing, I should tell you that I am not much of a believer in giving a play-by-play of beach volleyball games. Without getting overly poetic, I feel like it is hard to really capture the essence or soul of the game in words, and that our beloved game is best played, and then watched, and in a distant third, read about. So I will just say that I was in the tank the first game and we got destroyed. Then I played better and they made some mistakes allowing us to even the match at 1-1. Each team played well in the third game, with Ze Germans making some clutch plays at 16-16 to eventually win the game and match, 18-16. If you want to watch the match for yourself, click the link below. (What’s that? I can’t put links because this is going in a magazine? Like a real, “made of paper” magazine? Huh, I didn’t know they still made those.)

Our second day of competition didn’t go much better than the first. I probably should have been tipped off by the windmill next to the event site, or the 40 kite surfers out in the water, that it could get a little breezy in Den Haag. I was told the wind was at 54 kilometers per hour, which is roughly equivalent to 3,000 mph for those of us who don’t use the metric system. That wind, combined with me tweaking a muscle in my back early in our first game, led to some very sloppy play on my part and a 0-3 finish at this Grand Slam, losing to a good young Polish team and a veteran Dutch team. I was really frustrated and disheartened, but I cheered up when I realized I was going to have to write all about how terrible I played for a national publication. (Thanks, VBM.)

Well, that was pretty much my week in a nutshell. I wish I had better news to write about, but unfortunately the only thing we can do is move on, start preparing for the Grand Slam in Rome, and petition the U.S. government to declare war on Holland.

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Ryan Doherty and do not necessarily reflect those of Volleyball magazine and its affiliates. But in this case, yeah, we agree with everything Ryan said. His article is 100 percent factually accurate, and you should ask him all about his trip to “the Hoo-gee” next time you see him.

*REAL Editor’s Note: Ryan wrote the last editor’s note, and we most certainly do not agree with any opinions or views discussed in this article. We apologize for any confusion and for asking him to write for us in the first place. And it’s a good bet that it isn’t pronounced, “Hoo-gee.”

Originally published in August 2013

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