The history of beach volleyball

How everything started

In 1915 George David Center played volleyball with his friends on sand for the first time. He set up a net on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii and encouraged his colleagues to play a game of six versus six.

Seven years later the Santa Monica Beach Club was founded and by 1927 five more clubs were established in California. As a result, Southern California was designated origin of beach volleyball.

Beach volleyball finds its way to Europe

In 1927 the new sport reached the "old world". Nudists from a Parisian suburb acted as pioneers. Beach volleyball was first played in a camp in Franconville. During the 1930s the first beach volleyball games could be noticed in Prague, Riga and Sofia.

The first tournaments

In 1947 the first tournament was organized. One year later in 1948 the winner received his first "trophy money" – a six-pack of Pepsi.

During the early 1950s the first series of tournaments arose, consisting of five single tournaments. The connection between the sport, entertainment, sex appeal and the arising marketing trend became stronger and stronger – and "beachmania" was born.

The 60s and 70s – sex, drugs and regulations

The ever-increasing number of beach volleyball events soon emerged into giant parties. Although aiming to preserve the fun factor the California Beach Volleyball Association released its first regulations in 1965. This standardization of rules and superior entities was required to ensure the quality of the growing number of tournaments being held.

In 1974 the first sponsored tournament took place. The Winston Company invested USD 1,500 which were used as prize money for a tournament held in San Diego.

The Olympia Beer Championships at State Beach in 1976 attracted 30,000 spectators and this tournament is still considered to be the origin of the event concept as far as beach volleyball is concerned.

The 1980s – the first professionals

The most important element in sports are the athletes. In the early 1980s some promoters seemed to disregard this, instead organizing tournaments poorly and neglecting the players’ needs and proposals.

Therefore, the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) was founded in 1983. In 1985 that ‘volleyball trade union’ started organizing its own tours. The prize money for their tour equaled an amount of USD 275,000.

In the mid-1980s more and more non-American teams participated in AVP tournaments – with players from Brazil trying to enter the US-domain.

Then, in 1987 the international volleyball association, the FIVB, established the World Tour, giving players a platform to play at the highest level around the globe in professionally organized events.

Different regulations and battling for broadcasting times and sponsors’ funds caused a deep conflict between the FIVB and the AVP, leading to mutual suspensions for the players.

The 1990s – Beach volleyball boom

Beach volleyball’s break through was in 1992 in Almeria (Spain), here a demonstration tournament was held as counterpart to the Olympic Games. The enormous interest led to a nomination as an Olympic discipline at the Games in Atlanta 1996.

The number of international tournaments which took place on five continents, rose extremely in the mid-nineties and so did the prize money.

The first Olympic beach volleyball gold medals were awarded to the United States; Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes in the men’s competition and Jackie Silva and Sandra Pires of Brazil in the women’s competition.

In 1997 the first official Beach Volleyball World Championships took place. At this point the sport was being dominated by some brilliant Brazilians. Para/Guilherme won the men’s and Silva/Pires the women’s final. The championship resulted in an international match between the USA and Brazil as both the women and men had four teams each within the best eight.

The Millennium

Just in time for the new Millennium, the second Olympic beach volleyball championship took place in front of the breathtaking Sydney scenery. At this point beach volleyball was ranked second in the category of ‘the most loved’ Olympic disciplines.

The story of success continued with the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing, and 2012 in London. Not only did the competitive nature of the sport increase so did beach volleyball’s popularity. At the 2012 Games in London, tickets for the beach volleyball tournament were among the most popular and matches were played out in front of packed crowds at the Horse Guards Parade.

Since 2015

The new Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series, a joint venture between Red Bull and ACTS supported by the FIVB as governing body, was introduced with one big goal: to create a new series for the best athletes in the world and a great experience for fans whether on site or in front of the TV screens.

Playing a major role in the FIVB’s World Tour, the Swatch Major Series’ debut season of 2015 saw three tour stops in Croatia, Norway and Switzerland before the inaugural Swatch World Tour Finals tournament was held in Fort Lauderdale.

If 2015 was heralded a success, then 2016 went one big step further. The Olympics were held on the iconic Copacabana beach and packed crowds roared on Brazilian team Alison/Bruno to win gold in the men’s tournament. Europe, however, celebrated with gold in the women’s competition as Germany’s Ludwig/Walkenhorst claimed top spot on the podium.

The Swatch Major Series expanded as well, adding Klagenfurt, Austria and Hamburg, Germany to the roster of tournaments.

After the success of the Olympics came the Swatch World Tour Finals, which saw the curtain come down on a fantastic season on the sand with packed crowds and intense competition. Alison/Bruno and Ludwig/Walkenhorst claimed gold to cap an unforgettable season – perhaps the best in beach volleyball’s history to date.