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Beach volleyball, or sand volleyball, is an Olympic team sport played on sand. Like other variations of volleyball, two teams, separated by a high net, try to score points against the other by grounding a ball on the other team's court. Competitive beach volleyball teams usually consist of two players, though recreational variations can contain up to six players.

Originating in Southern California, beach volleyball now receives worldwide popularity, even in countries without traditional beaches, like Switzerland.


Though popularized in Southern California, the first recorded beach volleyball games took place on the beaches of Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawai'i at the Outrigger Canoe Club. Originally designed to give bored surfers something to do when the surf was down, the game quickly developed into more organized six-man matches. The most famous early player was legendary waterman, Duke Kahanamoku.

In 1920, construction of new jetties in Santa Monica, Californiamarker 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 recreational games were soon being played on public parts of the beach, as well as in private beach clubs. 11 such beach clubs appeared in the Santa Monica area, beginning in late 1922. The first inter-club competitions were staged in 1924, marking the first beach volleyball tournaments to be played in California.

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, however, is credited to Paul "Pablo" Johnson, an indoor player. 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 four people present. The game was forever changed.

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 the 1960s, an attempt to start a professional volleyball league was made in Santa Monica. It failed, but a professional tournament was held in Francemarker for 30,000 French francs. The first Manhattan Beach Open was held in 1960. The tournament is now considered the "Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball".

In the 1970s, a few professional tournaments in Santa Monica were sponsored by beer and cigarette companies.

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

Despite its increased popularity in the 80's and 90's, 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 organization.

In 2001, the AVP reemerged as a for-profit, publicly-traded company that combined the men's and women's professional tours, with equal prize money for both sexes.

Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, who won two consecutive gold medals in 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, were named "the greatest beach volleyball team of all time". Among female beach volleyball players, May-Treanor has the record of most tournaments won with 103 career wins.

Rules and Gameplay

Rule Differences Between Beach and Indoor

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); teams can contact the ball no more than three times before the ball crosses the net; and consecutive contacts must be made by different players.

The major differences between beach and indoor volleyball are:
  • Playing surface: sand, rather than a hard floor
  • Team size: two players per team, rather than six

Other differences include:

  • The beach court measures , while the indoor court measures .
  • A match consists of a best two of three set format. A set is won by the first team to reach 21 points with a two-point advantage. The first team to win two sets wins the match, and a third set tiebreaker, if necessary, is won by the first team to reach 15 points with a two-point advantage.
  • Teams change playing sides of the court at every combined multiple of 7 points in the first and second set. For example, if Team A has 10 points and Team B also has 10, then the next point will cause both teams to switch sides, the total score of 21 being a multiple of 7. On the third set, teams change sides of the court at every combined multiple of 5 points.
  • It is legal to cross under the net as long as doing so does not interfere with the opponents' attempt to play the ball.
  • Players alternate service, but are not required to rotate positions;
* There are no 'rotation errors'.
* There are no ten-foot line (3-meter line) hitting restrictions.
  • There are no substitutions.
  • Most players, either by choice or by requirement of the rules, play the game barefoot.
  • The ball is softer, has a lower internal pressure, and is slightly bigger than an indoor volleyball.
  • Overhand finger passes are refereed more strictly in the United States of America:
* An overhand pass must be redirected squarely to the shoulders if place over the net in an attacking motion. When receiving a ball from a hit that is not hard driven, little or no spin on the ball (a "clean" pass) must be attempted. In practice, this means that serves are never received open-handed, even thought it could be allowed. The exception to this rule is when receiving an opponent's hard-driven attack which allows a double contact and/or a slight lift of the ball.
* When employing an overhand pass, 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 is less strict than in the indoor game, ie. it is legal to allow the ball to come to rest for a small period of time.
  • Although you are allowed to "tip" the ball as you would in indoor volleyball, you must contact it with a closed hand or with the top of your hand. An open hand tip, in beach volleyball, is considered a carry ball. Therefore, you may contact it with a cobra (your index and middle finger curled as you contact it with those two fingers only), a camel toe (all five fingers extend as you poke at the ball with them), or a regular closed fist. The cobra is the preferred method of tipping in beach volleyball today.

Block Signals

A player indicating that she will block "line" on both sides.
Beach volleyball players use hand signals to indicate the type of block they intend to make, also known as block signals. Block signals are made behind the back to hide them from the opposing team. They are usually given with both hands by the serving player's partner prior to the serve, with each hand referring to the type of block that should be put up against an attack from the corresponding opponent. A player may also "wiggle" or "flash" one block signal to indicate which opponent to serve to.

If the server is the designated blocker, he or she may run up to the net to block after serving. Otherwise, the signaling player will perform the block.

Block signals may also be given during a rally while the opposing team is preparing their attack.

Common Block Signals

  • Closed fist
No block should be attempted for the opponent on that side of the court
  • One finger
The blocker should block an opponent's "line" attack, or a ball hit perpendicularly from the net and parallel to the sideline
  • Two fingers
The blocker should block an opponent's "angle" attack, or a ball hit diagonally from the net and across the court
  • Open hand
The blocker should block "ball," deciding how to block based upon the opposing team's set, and the hitter's approach and arm-swing technique.

Governing Bodies

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

International and Domestic Competition

Uniform Controversy

Finnish beach volleyball star Riikka Lehtonen and opponent

In 1999, the FIVB standardized beach volleyball uniforms. The ruling federation reduced uniform sizes for both male and female competitors, with the swimsuit becoming the required uniform for women, and shorts and tank-tops for men. This drew the ire of some athletes.

The FIVB asserted that female beach volleyball players have the option of playing in a one-piece uniform, but that most prefer the two-piece bikini.

Indeed, notable competitors like Natalie Cook and Holly McPeak have confirmed the FIVB's claims, stating that the uniforms are practical for a sport played on a sand beach during the heat of summer.

Some conservative cultures have expressed moral objections to the swimsuit as a uniform. At the 2007 South Pacific Games, rules were adjusted to require less revealing shorts and cropped sports tops. At the 2006 Asian Games, only one Muslim country fielded a team in the beach volleyball series, amid concerns the uniform was inappropriate.

See also: FIVB: Olympic Beach Volleyball Tournaments Specific Competition Regulations

Lifestyle and culture

The bikini is typical attire for women playing beach volleyball.
Beach volleyball culture includes the people, language, fashion and life surrounding the sport of modern beach volleyball. With its origins in Hawai'i and California, beach volleyball is strongly associated with a casual, beach-centric 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 boardshorts. 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 Beachmarker, Hermosa Beachmarker, Santa Barbaramarker and Huntington Beachmarker maintain permanent poles and nets year-round.

In naturism and nudism volleyball has become a cliche and a source of much amusement to non-naturists/nudists. The concept entered mainstream consciousness when Alan Alda's character, Hawkeye, in the show M*A*S*H frequently ogled nude volleyball pictures in his nudist magazines. It is true that naturist/nudist parks around the world almost always feature an active beach volleyball community. The nude volleyball tournament held at the end of the summer at White Thorn Lodge in Darlington, Pennsylvania attracts thousands of players from around North America. The level of play is so good that non-naturist teams participate. In Southern California Blacks Beach has been playing volleyball for over 30 years and naturists/nudists still play today. A local group called blacks beach bares associated with the naturist society, maintains 4 nets all year round and is still growing. They have been interviewed by news stations and have been featured in magazines and newspapers.

See also


  5. BVB. Beach volleyball career leaders (Retrieved on August 25, 2008)
  6. Bikini blues – Beach volleyball makes the swimsuit standard,
  7. Beach Volleyball, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  8. Olympic Uniforms: Less Clothing Means Better Results, ABC News.
  9. FIVB: Olympic Beach Volleyball Tournaments Specific Competition Regulations
  10. Natalie Cook defends bikini,
  11. No bikinis for beach volleyball players,, August 31 2007

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