By Jane Bartnett
For beach volleyball players, playing a match or two on the soft, white, powdery sand at Siesta Beach is pure heaven.
On a breezy mid-April afternoon, a vacationing family from Long Island, New York, was celebrating its 15-year-old son’s birthday and enjoying a competitive game of beach volleyball on Siesta Beach.
“Best birthday ever,” said the teen after scoring a point for his team.
Added his mother, “The sand, the weather, this beach, it’s the best.”
And what was chimed in by the father? “Hey, we’re here on vacation in Siesta Key. What could be better!”
In the world of beach volleyball, few beaches can compete with ours as a place to enjoy this timeless sport. Amateurs and pros alike are in agreement on that.
Florida Backroads Travel called Siesta Beach an “iconic” place for beach volleyball. “Its high-quality courts are often used for official tournaments and games, but it’s a popular location for recreational leagues and casual play as well,” reported the travel website.
On most days throughout the year, beach volleyball players can be found enjoying one or two or more of the 10 Siesta Beach volleyball courts that are maintained and managed by Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources. Located a few steps away from the main pavilion and open free of charge during park’s hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Friends gather for casual pick-up matches, high school and college beach volleyball tournaments are held, and on occasion Siesta Beach hosts professional tournaments. Even when tournaments are being played, there are always three northern volleyball nets that are left open for public play.
What is it that makes this special place nirvana for volleyball beach players? It all comes down to the sand, said Jonathan Poyner, Sarasota County’s Siesta Beach coordinator.
“Siesta sand,” he said, “is amazing for volleyball because the nearly pure quartz sand is never hot on your feet and the consistency is soft, with very little shell content, making it ideal for diving to get that perfect shot.”
For those who want to take in the fast-paced action of a professional beach volleyball tournament, Siesta Beach will be the site of three major volleyball tournaments that are booked for 2023.
The “Dig the Beach Series Siesta Key” event will return her on May 20 and 21, after a three-year absence due to COVID-19. It has become one of the largest sand volleyball tournaments in the country. Last played on Siesta Key in 2019, the popular event offers fans a chance to see exceptional professional and amateur adult and junior players in action.
Diogo Sousa, director of Dig the Beach Volleyball and vice president of operations at Exclusive Sports Marketing, the firm that will present the tournament, said that he and his team are looking forward to getting back to Siesta Key.
“As the No. 1 beach, Siesta Beach attracts a lot of top players. They really enjoy playing there and a lot of our local players live in Sarasota,” he said.
June 3 and 4, the Sunshine State Outdoor Volleyball Association will host “Summer Smash,” featuring adult and junior competition. In the fall, SSOVA will return to Siesta Beach for a second two-day adult and junior event on the weekend of Oct. 7 and 8.
The summer-break volleyball camp offered by Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources that has taken place on Siesta Beach for many years will not take place this summer.
“Hopefully, it will return to the program lineup for summer camp next season,” said the Siesta Beach coordinator.
Although many casual beach volleyball players use indoor rules and play with teams of six or more, beach volleyball rules call for only two players per side.
According to the Association of Volleyball Professionals, team size is not the only difference. “Beach volleyballs are softer, lighter, and marginally bigger. With four fewer players per side on the beach, that bigger, floatier ball allows for those players to close distances and make the crazy diving plays that are hallmarks of AVP sets,” the organization reports.
Scoring is also different.
“In indoor volleyball, a set is won by the first team to score 25 points. Beach volleyball is played to 21,” it said.
Beach volleyball on the white sands of Siesta can hold its own against any other top beach volleyball location. Just ask any player having the time of their life playing a game of pick-up ball or a player going in for a spike to win a big tournament.
Volleyball utopia? It’s right here.