Bringing the beach to you

Beach volleyball in the St. Pete Times Forum parking lot? It's not the first sport that comes to mind. No beach, for one thing.

Published May 30, 2007

Beach volleyball in the St. Pete Times Forum parking lot? It's not the first sport that comes to mind. No beach, for one thing.

The volleyball matches might have been more logically played on Clearwater Beach than downtown Tampa, which does not have the benefit of, say, the Gulf of Mexico.

It all is a little unnatural looking. Two thousand tons of sand were hauled in to build eight courts for the Association of Volleyball Players tour, which is coming to the Forum Thursday through Sunday.

The tournament will begin with an open qualifier and continue with the main draw, culminating with the men's and women's finals Sunday. Courtside seats are $44.75. General admission seating is $24.75.

Why dump tons of sand onto an asphalt lot when Clearwater Beach is just a long lob away? Because beach volleyball has grown too big for the beach. What began as a California novelty has grown nationwide.

The AVP tour, which offers $4-million in prize money, includes more than 150 players. Its season runs from April to September and is as likely to set up in a parking lot as at a seashore in the 18 cities 13 states on its tour.

The top professionals could have played on Clearwater Beach if all they needed was sand. But the tour comes with enough props - bleacher seating for thousands of fans, interactive areas, sponsors tents, TV equipment - that setting up on a public beach can be complex.

"There's a desire to bring the game to urban areas, partly because that's where most people live, " AVP general manager Gabby Roe said at a news conference in March announcing the Tampa stop. "It's an atmosphere that's worked great for us."

Playing beach volleyball on trucked-in sand became popular after the sport debuted during the 1996 Olympics on a man-made beach in Atlanta.

Now, the AVP has stops in Las Vegas, Chicago and Dallas, cities where high tide doesn't exist.

The Forum needed only to clear out the parking lot. The AVP hauled in everything else by the truckload and will finish the setup in time for Thursday.

The sand, which was bought from a local firm, was spread more than 12 inches deep on the blacktop. After the tournament ends, the sand will be given to local parks.

It may lack the ambience of Clearwater Beach, but beach volleyball in parking lots has its benefits. The sand is firmer, which means players can jump higher and spike harder. Errant balls do not end up in the ocean. And the tide tables are irrelevant.

"It's a great surface to play, " men's pro player Phil Dalhausser said. "The game's faster. You can do a lot more. I prefer it."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4169.

Fast Facts:

By the numbers

2, 000 Tons of sand used to build courts

103 Dump trucks to haul sand

8 Volleyball courts that were constructed

7 Days to build the courts.