South Bay Beach Volleyball’s Willy Wonka Ticket
My beach life has been pretty blessed. I surf and body surf with many of the local guys I grew up with. I’ve been lucky enough to surf on multiple continents, and had a lot of fun. But, at it’s core Manhattan Beach is a volleyball town….The garbage cans say it’s “the home of beach volleyball,“ so it must be true. Volleyball is a big part of living in the South Bay and I enjoy it even now more than I did as a kid. I play with the same group of guys that I’ve been playing with for years, and we still play two’s on the old school larger court, with the new ball—don’t ask why or how we have concocted this Franken-version of the game, but it’s something we all look forward to from March through November, weather depending.
Other than at the venerable courts at 19th/20th, the rest of Manhattan and Hermosa have adopted four man as the game of choice. You certainly get to get more guys playing, with less down time. I played my first four man tourney, the Greg Ack Memorial, over Memorial Day at 17th in Hermosa and I was stoked to get great partners in what is always a blind draw. After that, I played 4th Street in Manhattan, and again got lucky with nice guys and a great team.
The holy grail of all South Bay summer tourneys is the annual four man at 17th in Hermosa over two days, every Labor Day. An invitational, limited to 120 players, I’ve always wanted to be part of this tradition. Started by 17th Street local Lee Campbell 52 years ago, the tradition is kept alive by local good guy, and Field Deputy to L.A .County Supervisor Don Knabe, Steve Napolitano and my dear friend, son of Lee, Kevin Campbell. Kevin and Steve made it happen for me this year, and through their good graces, it was an amazing weekend. Aside from the four man format, This is old school volleyball. Beach chairs three rows deep around center court, a cool official T-shirt and so many of the great guys I grew up with, played with and admired. The pros turn out as well, and there were two Medal owning Olympians, Eric Fonoimoana (Gold) and Bob Samuleson (Bronze), playing this year. Pro Mark Paaluhui’s team made it to the finals to be defeated by Gray Garrett and second year in a row winner, Dan “Action Dan” Jensen. Action Dan also got the tourney MVP award (right on, Dan).
Our A player Jeff Urton, and setter Dave Wagner, were gracious to me and my fellow back-row specialist Carlo, with the greatest moment being a loss: in a game that ends after a team earns two points more than the other, after 15 points, we played more than an hour, the final score 21-23.
I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love, share the beach with loved ones, old friends, and local legends. Share the court with some of the finest beach volleyball players in the world, and, like a kid, stay on the beach till it’s dark. Then, ride my bike back to Manhattan, with an umbrella, ukulele, salty eyelashes and special images and memories from a great event.