The Association of Volleyball Professionals, or AVP, has been around for more than three decades; it claims the mantle of the nation’s premier beach volleyball association. It is headquartered in California where volleyball players are a product of the native soil and climate.
View of the stadium from Pier 25
This weekend New York City is the site of the third tournament (of eight) on AVP’s seasonal schedule – May through September. The competition takes place in a stadium erected on Pier 26, a brief walk from the Chambers Street IRT station. It began on Friday, June 9 and continues through Sunday, June 11. The sun, the water, the scantily clad, buff bodies are enough to make the AVP feel at home in California, but the backdrop of the Freedom Tower and its neighbors belies any such conclusion. The pier is festive, populated with games (many free), food trucks, sponsors’ displays and stores. Pier 25 to the south, hosting secondary volleyball courts, also hosts cafes, miniature golf, playgrounds, and sweeping Hudson views.
Players Fopma and Reeves cooling off during a time-out
Between moments of active play, music blares from ubiquitous loudspeakers. Admission to the tournament is both free and general – although paid tickets can gain you access to privileged areas and services. If you are ardent fans of the game; or to experience another aspect of the New York summer; if you want to see a burgeoning neighborhood unlike most in Manhattan or just to appreciate the sinewy athleticism, this is a place to be part of a novel New York event. The tournament semi-finals and finals will be played today starting at 10 a.m. The finals will be broadcast on NBC TV at 4:30 p.m. This is the third season New York has hosted a segment of the AVP tour and – you know – once it gains traction it will become ticketed and over-crowded; see it now if it has appeal. Bring a hat and sunscreen.
Volleyball is a game many of us played in our youths, but few of us have played the game on display here. This is two “man” volleyball – played on sand. That only two people can move rapidly enough to cover the acreage is astonishing. (The court is 9 x 9 meters on each side of the net.) To do that on sand is mind boggling. The players are generally tall, trim, lithe and almost universally ensconced behind large, opaque sunglasses. This tournament starts as a double elimination but becomes a simple elimination tournament half way through; the double elimination means that a losing team can earn its way back into competition for the win. That adds some spice. The draw here includes a number of Olympians, some medalists. Eighty five teams registered for this tournament; only four of each gender made it to the final draw. So you can expect the level of play to be high. For those in the know, notables on the roster include Ryan Doherty, Nick Lucena, Elsa Baquerizo McMillan, Kelly Claes, April Ross, Ricardo Santos, Reid Priddy, Jake Gibb, Xi Zhang and Sara Pavan (among others).
Players DiCello and Stockman signing souvenirs for the crowd
The sports pages may offer an analysis of play, prospects for specific teams, informed comments on strategy, player stats, etc. Although many in the crowd that proliferated in the stands on Saturday might also be able to do that, I cannot. But I can appreciate athleticism, passionately contested points, the sun and the breeze off the river and the excitement of competition – for prize money that still suggests the game is played for the joy of the competition.
This is sport at a professional level that is close enough for you to touch – in a setting that few can touch. The piers themselves may be a revelation given how lower Manhattan has developed in recent years. The surrounding neighborhood looks more like Seattle or San Francisco than the gritty city I first encountered when arriving in New York – albeit a tad taller – with charming cafes and spectacular vistas. The entire experience can be exhilarating. Carpe Diem. But do bring that hat and sunscreen.