There are a few sports that should only be played under
certain conditions: hockey should only be played in areas where there's natural
ice (sorry, Ducks fans); football should only be played in the middle of a
snowstorm; and horseshoes should only be played with a beer in hand at a
barbecue in the middle of July.
volleyball is another one of those sports for obvious reasons; it should only
be played at Huntington Beach, right next to Surf City's famous pier, close enough to the
shoreline so you can feel the spray of the ocean on the back of your neck, and where bikinis, sunglasses, sun hats and flip-flops are the required attire, and
where fat, old surfers in Tommy Bahama shirts can ogle the six-foot-tall
Amazon women battling it out on the sand.
I'm sure AVP Nivea Tour events like the ones in Chicago and
Cincinnati are nice, but nothing beats the atmosphere and the local passion for
the game at the Huntington Beach Open of pro beach volleyball.
On Sunday, the final day of the annual tournament, thousands
of fans converged on the event site, which was situated right on the beach on the south side
of the pier. There, stars such as Misty May-Treanor, Todd Rogers and Phil
Dalhausser battled up-and-coming contenders looking to knock them off their AVP
Rogers and Dalhausser, who heading into the weekend
tournament had won 38 of 68 tour events they've played as a team and ranked
fourth on the list of most men's victories ever
with 50 to their names, were looking to defend their Huntington Beach Open
crowns. Oh yeah, they also won gold in Beijing in 2008. The intimidation factor
of these two couldn't be higher.
The men's final pitted the favorites in Rogers and
Dalhausser against their principle rivals this season, John Hyden and Sean
Scott. Dalhausser lived up to his reputation as the “Beijing Beast,” smoking
his opponents with four aces and dominating at the net. He and his partner, despite
a few minor hiccups in the second set, cruised to a three-set victory, 21-16, 18-21, 15-9.
May-Treanor, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and
legendary teammate of the recently pregnant Kerri Walsh, paired up with Nicole
Branagh to try to prove she was still the most dominant player on the tour with
a win at Huntington Beach.
May-Treanor and Branagh faced April Ross and Jennifer Kessy,
both Orange County natives and USC alums, in the women's final. A year or two
ago, this match would have been a no-brainer. Most hard-core volleyball fans
would have expected May-Treanor to bulldoze over her younger rivals across the net. But
these days, the women's field is wide open and any team seems primed for
success on a given day.
said, Ross and Kessy finessed their way to a 14-21,
21-12, 15-11 win, the first Southern California title of their careers.
better than the competition in the largest stadium (but still not better than
when the announcer in the main stadium made the crowd do the wave in super-slow motion or all of the free
stuff being given out by sponsors in the tent city around it) was the action
taking place in the smaller courts off to the side of the bigger competitions.
The intensity of these matches, held right on the sand with
mere feet separating the competitors from their fans, makes them just as
exciting if not more so than the matches held in the larger stadium. These
smaller venues have a more grassroots feel–it won't be uncommon to find
yourself sitting next to the families and friends of one of the competitors.
So long as you can handle being packed in like sardines with
other fans, getting practically splashed with sweat from the players duking it
out in front of you or having to listen to drunken bros screaming stuff like “MAKE
IT RAIN BABY! MAKE IT RAIN!” then these smaller competitions are the place to
be. They're free, too.
If any of this has piqued your interest, don't worry about
missing the Huntington Beach Open; the AVP Nivea Tour is due back in Southern
California soon. The tour has stops in Malibu, Manhattan Beach and two in
Hermosa Beach, so there will be plenty of opportunities this summer to catch
more of the action. Visit www.avp.com for more
information on tickets and dates.