How To Play Beach Volleyball + History

What is beach volleyball and how is it played?

Beach volleyball is a ball game played on a sandy court, 16 by 8 meters in size, with a net of 32 feet long and 39” wide, and 8 feet tall for men.  The women’s net is sightly lower.  The net divides the playing field in half.  There are 2 teams with 2 players on each team. 

The players serve or hit the ball over the net trying to get the ball to touch the ground on the opposing team’s side.  The ball can be touched, but not caught, up to 3 times before it is passed back over the net. 

The ball is put into “play” when a team member “serves” or hits the ball from behind the back boundary line over the net to the opponent’s side.  The “rally” continues until the ball touches the ground, or lands outside the boundaries. 

Points are gained after the serve, and when the opposing team makes a mistake.  Team players take turns serving.  The servers change each time a rally is won.  It has been an Olympic sport since 1996 Summer Games in Spain. 

what does a beach volleyball court look like

The Ball 

mikasa beach volleyball

The volleyballs are round with eighteen rectangular panels made of synthetic or genuine leather.  This leather covering is arranged in six identical sections of three panels each, wrapped around a bladder.  

Sometimes the indoor volleyball only uses eight panels to give the ball a lighter more agile touch.  There is a sunken valve hole permitting the air pressure to be adjusted.  Beach volleyballs are slightly larger than standard indoor balls.  

spalding beach volleyball

Beach volleyballs have a rougher external texture, and a lower internal pressure. They can be brightly colored or solid white. 

Originally, volleyballs were made from leather paneling over a rubber carcass.

There are many different companies that make volleyballs, such as Mikasa from Japan, and the older Spalding company, from Chicago in the U.S.. 

The Mikasa company’s volleyballs are used for official games and competitions such as the Olympics.  Many organizations, clubs and schools use Mikasa balls as well.

The beach volleyball has a 27” circumference, weighs around 9.5 ounces, with an internal pressure per square inch (psi) of 3.0.

History + The First Volleyball Game Ever Played

Legend gives credit to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii and the Outrigger Canoe Club members, for discovering beach volleyball.  This happened way back in 1915. 

history of beach volleyball

Ever since the first game, this sport was called “Beach Volleyball”.  It had many similarities to the regular game of volleyball, but it is not the same sport.  Back in 1908, a group of Hawaiian business men formed the Outrigger Canoe Club.  These young men had a common interest.  It was the Pacific Ocean.  They loved to surf, and play in the waters daily.  They decided to form a club as young men sometimes do.  Their mission was to perpetuate traditional Hawaiian sports.  The club became famous as a place where men could come and enjoy the sun, the surf, and good fellowship in the aloha spirit.  

Two grass houses became the club house, which was positioned on the beach next to a beautiful lagoon.  They made canoes and surfboards available, and there was a dressing room and bathhouse.  This was just the beginning of a very good thing.  The club house was originally placed on leased land, and by 1964, the lease expired and the club moved to Diamond Head. 

The Outrigger Beach and Canoe Club’s historical records tell the story of how beach volleyball started there in early 1915.   Apparently, in 1978, Ken Pratt interviewed Ron Higgins, a long time Canoe Club member, and the story of beach volleyball was recorded.  Mr. Higgins recollects club member, George David “Dad” Center, going out and buying a couple of volleyballs and a volleyball net, sometime at the start of 1915.  


“Dad,” along with other members, put the net up on the sandy beach between the surfboard lockers and the canoe shed.  This is where the first recorded game of “Beach Volleyball” took place.   Santa Monica, California became a popular beach volleyball region.  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.  Competitions between clubs began in 1924.  In those days, teams had 6 players per side, similar to indoor volleyball. 

Paul “Pablo” Johnson, an indoor player of Santa Monica Athletic Club came up with the idea of a 2 man team.  This happened by accident when players didn’t show for a game, so Pablo carried on with a 2 man team.  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

Beach volleyball began to appear in Europe in the 1930’s.  By the 1940’s, 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, supplied by Dr. Caleb Mohrhauser, a man who loved the sport.  In the 1960’s, attempts were made to professionalize beach volleyball, at least in Santa Monica.  There were tournaments in France.  A tournament at Manhattan Beach New York grew and became the “Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball”.  Even the famous British Beatles tried to play, and the U.S. president, John F. Kennedy enjoyed attending matches. 

In 1974 there was an indoor tournament with 4000 spectators thrilled about this sport.  It was held at the San Diego Sports Arena.  Fred Zuelich teamed with Dennis Hare to defeat Ron Von Hagen and Matt Gage in the championship match.  Winston cigarettes was the sponsor.  There is a book called, “The Art of Beach Volleyball” by Dennis Hare that was popular at the time.  The first professional beach volleyball tournament was the Olympia World Championship of Beach Volleyball, staged on Labor Day weekend, 1976, at Will Rogers beach in Pacific Palisades, California.  The event was organized 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 the Schlitz beer company.  In 1978,  a sports promotion company was formed.  Tournaments sprung up all over the place, and the prize monies increased.  Beach volleyball became very lucrative and popular.  By 1996, Beach Volleyball was an official Olympic sport.  To date, even with major set backs and bankruptcies, the U.S. and Brazil have won the most Olympic medals.

Things to Remember

  • sand court
  • bare feet
  • no attack line
  • 2 players per team
  • best of 3 sets to 21
  • no open hand, tips, or drinks
  • a net block counts as a touch
  • no coaching during matches
  • ok to cross under the net as long as it doesn’t interfere with other team
  • switch sides after every 7 points
  • bikini uniforms ok
  • no libero which is a specialized defensive player
  • ok to use kinesiology tape to protect knees, fingers, shoulders
  • men’s, women’s, mixed teams

Beach Baby Bob

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Beach Baby Bob