About Beach Volleyball


Beach volleyball, or sand volleyball, is an Olympic team sport played by two teams of two players on a sand court divided by a net. As with indoor volleyball, the object of the game is to send the ball over the net in order to ground it on the opponent’s court, and to prevent the same effort by the opponent.

A team is allowed up to three touches to return the ball. The ball is put in play with a service, a hit by the server from behind the rear court boundary over the net to the opponents. The rally continues until the ball is grounded on the playing court, goes “out” or is not returned properly.

The team winning a rally scores a point (Rally Point System), and serves to start the following rally. The four players serve in the same sequence throughout the match, changing server each time a rally is won by the receiving team.

Originating in Southern California and Hawaii, beach volleyball has since achieved worldwide popularity.

The History of Beach Volleyball

In 1920, new jetties in Santa Monica, California created a large sandy area for public enjoyment, planting the seed for beach volleyball development in that region. The first permanent nets began to appear, and people soon began playing recreational games on public parts of the beach and in private beach clubs. Eleven such beach clubs appeared in the Santa Monica area, beginning in late 1922. The first inter-club competitions were staged in 1924.

Most of these early beach volleyball matches were played with teams of at least six players per side, much like indoor volleyball. The concept of the modern two-man beach volleyball game is credited to Paul “Pablo” Johnson, an indoor player of Santa Monica Athletic Club.

In the summer of 1930, while waiting for players to show up for a six-man game, Johnson decided to try playing with only the two people present. The game was forever changed, though recreational games continue to be played with more players, the most widely played version of the game, and the only one contested at an elite level, has only two players per team.

Beach volleyball began to appear in Europe in the 1930s. By the 1940s, doubles tournaments were being played on the beaches of Santa Monica for trophies. In 1948 the first tournament to offer a prize was held in Los Angeles, California. It awarded the best teams with a case of Pepsi. In the 1960s, an attempt to start a professional volleyball league was made in Santa Monica. It failed, but a professional tournament was held in France for 30,000 French francs. The first Manhattan Beach Open was held in 1960, a tournament which grew in prestige to become, in the eyes of some, the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball”. In 1974, the San Diego Open had its first commercial sponsor, Winston Cigarettes, with a prize of $1,500.

The first professional beach volleyball tournament was the Olympia World Championship of Beach Volleyball, staged on Labor Day weekend, 1976, at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades, CA. The event was organised by David Wilk of Volleyball Magazine, based in Santa Barbara. The winners, the first “world champions,” were Greg Lee and Jim Menges. They split $2,500 out of a total prize purse of $5,000.

Volleyball Magazine staged the event the next year at the same location, this time sponsored by Schlitz Light Beer. In 1978, Wilk formed a sports promotion company named Event Concepts with Craig Masuoka and moved the World Championship of Beach Volleyball to Redondo Beach. Jose Cuervo Tequila signed on as sponsor and the prize purse increased to $10,000. The event was successful and Cuervo funded an expansion the next year to three events. The California Pro Beach Tour started with events in Laguna Beach, Santa Barbara and the World Championship in Redondo.

In following years the tour expanded nationally and was renamed the Pro Beach Volleyball Tour. It consisted of five events in California and tournaments in Florida, Colorado and Chicago. Top players included Karch Kiraly, Randy Stoklos, Singin Smith, Andy Fishburn and Steve Obradovich. By 1984 the Pro Beach consisted of 16 events around the country and had a total prize purse of $300,000. At the end of the year, however, Event Concepts was forced out of the sport by a players’ strike at the World Championship and the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) was founded.

At the professional level, the sport remained fairly obscure until the 1980s when beach volleyball experienced a surge in popularity. Players like Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos and Karch Kiraly became household names. In 1987, the FIVB created the first World Beach Volleyball Championships, played in Rio Janeiro, Brazil won By Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos. The FIVB began organising worldwide professional tournaments, and laid the groundwork for the sport’s Olympic debut in 1996.

Despite its increased popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, American beach volleyball suffered setbacks. In early 1998, the American women’s professional tour, the WPVA, closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy. Later that same year, the American professional men’s tour, the AVP, also filed for bankruptcy, plagued by problems as a player-run organisation.

Rules of Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball is fundamentally similar to indoor volleyball: a team scores points by grounding the ball on the opponents’ court, or when the opposing team commits a fault (error or illegal action); consecutive contacts must be made by different players.

The major differences between beach and indoor volleyball are:
ñPlaying surface
ñTeam size
ñScoring system
ñOverhand touches and tips
ñBlock counts as a team touch
ñCoaching is not allowed

The playing court is a rectangle measuring 16 x 8m (smaller than the 18 x 9m indoor volleyball court), surrounded by a free zone which is a minimum of 3m wide and with a space free from any obstruction up to a minimum height of 7m from the playing surface. The terrain must be composed of levelled sand, as flat and uniform as possible, free of rocks, shells and anything else, which can represent risks of cuts or injuries to the players. Two sidelines and two end lines mark the playing court. Both side and end lines are placed inside the dimensions of the playing court. There is no centre-line.

The ball is spherical, made of a flexible material (leather, synthetic leather, or similar) which does not absorb humidity, i.e. more suitable to outdoor conditions since matches can be played when it is raining. The ball has a bladder inside made of rubber or a similar material. Approval of synthetic leather material is determined by FIVB regulations. The colours must be bright (such as an orange, yellow, pink, white), the circumference slightly bigger than for indoor (66 to 68cm for FIVB international competitions), the weight should be the same (260 to 280 g) and the inside pressure should be slightly lower (171 to 221m).

A team is composed exclusively of two players, who must always be in play and who cannot be subjected to any substitutions or replacement. At the moment the ball is hit by the server, each team must be within its own court (with the exception of the server), but there are no determined positions on the court, which means that no positional faults can be committed.

The match is won by the first team that wins two sets. A set is won by the first team to reach 21 points with a two-point advantage. In the case of a 20–20 tie, play is continued until a two-point lead is reached. If each team wins a set, the deciding set is played to 15 points, again with a minimum lead of 2 points Whenever a team fails to execute a legal service or to return the ball, or commits any other fault, the opposing team wins the rally, scores a point, and serves to start the following rally.

Teams switch ends of the court after every 7 points (set 1 and 2) and 5 points (set 3) played. When the total points are 21 (adding the score of both teams) there is a technical time out. The ball may touch any part of the body, but must be hit, not caught or thrown. In particular, in defensive action of a hard driven ball, the ball can be held momentarily overhand with the fingers.

When receiving a ball from a hit that is not hard driven, the ball must be contacted “cleanly” and if a player receives the ball open-handed, the contact of each hand with the ball must be exactly simultaneous. In practice, this means that serves are never received open-handed. When receiving an opponent’s hard-driven attack, a double contact (provided both contacts occur in a single action) and a slight lift of the ball is allowed.

When employing an overhead pass as the second of three team touches (usually with the intent of “setting” the ball, so that the other player may make a more effective attack-hit), the standard for a double contact fault is lower than when receiving or attacking, though still much stricter than in indoor volleyball. The standard for a lift fault during an overhand pass is less strict than in indoor games, and it is legal to allow the ball to come to rest for a small period of time.

Beach Volleyball Culture and Competitions

The main international governing body for beach volleyball is the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB). The regional governing body for North and Central America is the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA); for South America it is the Confederación Sudamericana de Voleibol (CSV); for Asia it is the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC); for Africa it is the Confédération Africaine de Volleyball (CAV), and for Europe it is the European Volleyball Federation (CEV). In the United States, USA Volleyball is the governing body for beach volleyball, as well as for indoor volleyball.

The U.S. NCAA began sponsoring beach volleyball, which it calls “sand volleyball”, as an “emerging” women’s sport in the 2010–11 academic year. Initially, it was sponsored only for Division II, with Division I added the following academic year. NCAA competition follows standard beach volleyball rules, with competitions involving five doubles teams from each participating school.

Beach volleyball culture includes the people, language, fashion and life surrounding the sport of modern beach volleyball. With its origins in Hawaii and California, beach volleyball is strongly associated with a casual, beach-centred lifestyle. As it developed nearly in parallel with modern surfing, beach volleyball culture shares some similarities with surf culture. The beach bum archetype is one such example.

Fashion often extends from the clothing worn during play, like the bikini or board-shorts. And much like surfers, beach volleyball players are at the mercy of the weather; patterns of play often develop based on weather conditions like sun and wind.

Beach volleyball is considered an important part of the local culture in many Southern California beach towns. Indeed, cities like Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Santa Barbara and Huntington Beach maintain permanent poles and nets all year-round.