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2016-06-08 12:33:00 CEST

Kiwis take one-way ticket to Europe

Sonny Hirini and Griffin Muller want to do the Haka at their first ever Klagenfurt Major

It was six years ago, when two 14-year-old boys sat in front of their computers and witnessed one of the biggest moments in FIVB World Tour history for New Zealand. Sonny Hirini and Griffin Muller watched their countrymen Jason Lochhead and Kirk Pitman face the legendary Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos in the bronze medal match of the Grand Slam Klagenfurt. But it wasn’t just the tight match between the underdogs from New Zealand against the hotly favored Brazilians that impressed the young athletes (13-21, 21-14 17-19). It was also the big crowd in Austria, who celebrated the traditional Haka with the Kiwis, that fascinated Sonny and Griffin. “The whole city is so supportive, Klagenfurt has been a dream to play since we were young,” says Griffin.

The Haka in the bronze medal match of Klagenfurt 2008

Now, time has come for the 22-year-old athletes. In exactly two weeks, they start at Klagenfurt Major for the first time in their careers. For Griffin, it will also be his first FIVB World Tour tournament ever. “Our goal is to become professional beach volleyball players,” he said. At the moment, Sonny and Griffin are working as coaches in Bibione, Italy. After the tournament in Klagenfurt, they will travel through Europe, playing some national tours. “We thought going to Europe is a good idea,” Sonny says. The national tour in New Zealand is very small. Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann played it once. “From time to time, some good teams are come but also because they want to visit the country,” Griffin explains. “But there isn´t a lot of money, other sports are bigger in New Zealand.”

18,000 kilometers away from home

To realize their dream, the two Kiwis have to be brave: It’s just the two of them traveling around the world, more than 18,000 kilometers away from home. No coach, no staff and without money from the federation. “Our federation do not have money to give it to anyone,” Griffin explains. So they decided to go out into the world and try on their own - and maybe, they are not coming back soon. “We just bought a one-way ticket,” Sonny says. With his mother being a native of England, he has an English passport – Griffin has an Swiss pass, because of his Swiss grandfather.

Sonny (left) and Griffin are coaching kids in a summer camp in Bibione, Credit: Sonny and GriffinSonny (left) and Griffin are coaching kids in a summer camp in Bibione, Credit: Sonny and Griffin

However, when coming to Klagenfurt, it will feel a little bit like home because Sonny and Griffin will meet the two guys whose footsteps they are following: Kirk Pitman and Jason Lochhead are still part of the World Tour. Jason coaches Saxton/Schalk from Canada and Pata/Matauatu from Vanuatu, whereas Kirk is the coach of the English team Gregory/Sheaf. And to complete the Kiwi connection at Klagenfurt, referee Richard Casutt, who has just worked at the Continental Cup Finals in Sochi, will come as well. He is a constant part of the World Tour – something Sonny and Griffin want to become.

Kiwi party in Klagenfurt

At the moment, there is a lot of movement in the New Zealand beach volleyball scene. Since Sam O’Dea and Michael Watson split up after missing the Olympic qualification, other players want to make their way like Sonny and Griffin who have just formed a new team. “At the moment, it is a big bounce going up,” Sonny says. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of the event, beach volleyball will feature at the Commonwealth Games 2018. “It’s a big goal of us to play there,” Griffin says. But first, they are looking to compete against the best teams of the world in Klagenfurt. “I would love to play Alison/Bruno,” said Griffin. As we learned before, sometimes dreams are can true, so maybe, Klagenfurt will host the rematch of the 2008 bronze medal match in a younger version. “Ringa pakia!”

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