Onstage in front of a few hundred people at the NEXTies on Friday night, Event Santa Cruz honored one of the greats.
Taking home the NEXTie—an engraved glass mug—for “best athlete” at the Rio Theatre on Friday, March 24 was Ryan Navaroli, a nationally ranked rising star in a little-known sport called Spikeball.
“It’s like beach volleyball, except it’s a 360-degree game with no boundaries, so basically you can imagine you’re diving all over the place,” Navaroli said at the NEXTies podium, award mug in front of him. “When I first started playing, I was having body parts sore that I didn’t even know existed.”
So either Spikeball is extremely competitive, or Navaroli is just lousy at anatomy. Either way, after quickly getting the hang of it, Navaroli—who played baseball at Santa Cruz High School and Cal State University San Bernardino—found it both a surprisingly rigorous workout and a lot of fun. Two teams of two surround a circular, trampoline-like surface, bouncing the ball off of the net below, and players lunge into the sand, trying to keep the play alive.
As he finishes up his master’s program at San Jose State University, Navaroli, 25, has been noticing that many kids have also taken to the sport. He even helped convince Shoreline Middle School to add Spikeball—also known by its generic name, roundnet—to its physical education curriculum.
“Everything has just spiraled into Spikeball and roundnet going crazy, and it’s awesome that it’s picking up,” he tells GT.
In competitions around the state, Navaroli plays alongside teammate and fellow Santa Cruz native Will Potter, and the Santa Cruz Roundnet club that he started has 4,000 followers on Instagram.
Navaroli has also held three local tournaments, the last one in December. He’s currently rallying to create the fourth—the second annual Santa Cruz Summer Showdown, scheduled for July 8 at Seabright Beach.
“I’ve already got 13 teams for that, and I’ve only been promoting it for two days, so I’m curious how big that’s going to get,” he says.
This year’s NEXTies received 1,000 nominations, says Matthew Swinnerton, founder of Event Santa Cruz. A committee of eight—including past honorees—voted on winners for the 17 categories, which stretched from mentors to businesses that are involved in the community.
This was the most winners the event has had in its eight years, and it was the second year that the awards were divided into separate categories. “We’ll keep it at that number,” Swinnerton says. “We can’t do anymore, or we’ll be there all night.”
The awards went 45 minutes over schedule anyway, and next year, he plans to have the house band cut off speakers who go on too long.
In what quickly turned into a crummy pre-dawn morning, veteran Paul Damon got stabbed after getting robbed in his home in January, as GT reported last month (“Will to Heal,” 2/17). He and his friend Adam Binckley chased down the guy who had ripped the two men off.
But what Damon and Binckley, a fellow vet, didn’t realize until later was that the knife that went deep into Damon’s thigh didn’t actually belong to the criminal. Rather, it turns out that when Damon attempted to hip-throw the alleged thief, he accidentally thrust his own body into a knife that Binckley was running with.
“A friendly stabbing,” says Damon, who heads the nonprofit Holistic Veterans.
Damon has fully recovered, and says he cut his recovery time by using Eastern healing practices and focusing on a healthy diet. Since the incident, he has spotted more of his veteran friends out in the neighborhood, keeping an eye on their streets. “I noticed everyone walking with their chests out,” he explains. “I think it inspired everyone.”
Alternate moral of this story: Don’t run with a knife.