On a typical evening drive along the Causeway, it’s rare to see the mainstay establishments without a full parking lot. Whether you come to enjoy the mouthwatering seafood at Felix’s, to listen to a Sunday show at the Bluegill or to blend in with the regulars at Trader’s, everyone has their own Causeway story to tell.
But a little farther east, you’ll notice rows of cars lining the parking lot of a different establishment. Balls fly through the air, lights beam into the night, music blares over the speakers and players dive in the sand to make a save for their respective team. At Tropics Bar & Grill, the crowd here is enjoying a different type of Causeway experience.
“It’s a ton of fun and we offer something for every type of player out there, ” says Weston Hawkins, Owner & Founder of Tropics Volleyball, a beach volleyball club that found its home at the no-frills Causeway bar & grill back in 2014. “We’ve got a great atmosphere and the best part is – you don’t have to be an awesome volleyball player to have a good time.”
Setting Up for the Kill
Though Tropics has now been around for nearly four years, the wheels were in motion long before 2014. After playing in a tournament in Kenner, La., Hawkins came up with the idea to start running small tournaments in Mobile and rallied a group of friends to play one Sunday on the beach volleyball courts at the University of South Alabama. The tournaments proved to be an instant success and grew in popularity – so much that people started to take notice.
“We kept the tournaments going for a few years until they got too big and the administration at South caught on, ” he said. “Eventually they asked us to leave, and I started searching for another option.”
It didn’t take long to find the right spot. Out one night shooting pool with co-workers at Tropics Bar & Grill, Hawkins glanced out the window and knew he had found what he was looking for. “At the time, it was all swamp and trees, but I thought we could make it work. I approached the restaurant owners with the idea and eventually we agreed to move forward.”
And move forward he did.
Ball in Play
It took months to overcome the various engineering headaches and construction challenges that come with building courts over wetlands. Finally, the first ball was served up in spring 2014 with the launch of the Tropics Volleyball Juniors Training Program. Since then, the program has hit the ground running – with 75 active players ages 8-18, including a player (Carissa Jones) who will be on scholarship next year to play beach volleyball at UAB. “After starting the program from scratch just a few years ago, this is a huge milestone for us, ” Hawkins said. “We weren’t sure if we’d see these results come so quickly.”
Apart from the thriving Juniors Program, Tropics has adult co-ed leagues and occasional doubles tournaments on the weekends. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, as many as 400 players of all ages and abilities fill up each of the facility’s five courts to put their bump, set, spike, (or beer-drinking) skills to the test.
The leagues consist of three different levels depending on experience, including a “beer in hand” league for players looking for a more light-hearted experience. “I wanted to make it more fun and approachable for people who had never played before, ” said Hawkins. “It’s a great way to get some exercise, meet new people and pick up a brand-new sport.”
The main purpose of Tropics, Hawkins iterates, is to fill a void for any type of experience you want to have with volleyball. “My goal in this whole thing is for Tropics to be a pathway for every type of player out there – whether you’re an adult looking to have a good time in the beer league or a serious player who wants to be ranked top 10 in the country.”
So the next time you’re driving down the Causeway and see a packed house at Tropics, why not stop in and see what the hype is all about? You might just find yourself a new favorite hobby.
Registration is now open for adult spring leagues and junior spring season. Adult leagues will begin on Wednesday, April 4 and the Junior program will start on Monday, April 9. Visit tropicsvolleyball.com to learn more and register or call 203-913-1258.
Text and Photo By Hanlon Walsh