Soccer Express/Umbro Beach Soccer Blast tournament hits Spanish Banks
In an effort to dispel the notion that Vancouver is a no-fun city, a bunch of local soccer players feel they’ve found the ideal way to have a blast. More than a thousand of them are looking forward to kicking off their cleats and taking to the sand of Spanish Banks for the Soccer Express/Umbro Beach Soccer Blast.
Now in its 13th year, Canada’s largest beach-soccer tournament will take place August 7 to 9 on nine makeshift pitches along the seashore and will feature 150 teams soaking up the sun and trying to inject some fun into this city, which can certainly use events like this.
“I think that’s what makes this so great, is that it combines all the things that everyone loves about Vancouver and about soccer, and the sand kind of levels out the playing field so all of the games are really tight and you get lots of action,” tournament manager Claire Duncan, in her first year running the show after competing five or six times, tells the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview. “I was a keeper all through my playing days, and so it’s fun for that position because there are lots of shots and lots of action. You’re down at the beach for the weekend, you’ve got the added element of soccer on top of that, and it’s just a really fun, fun tournament.”
In many ways, beach soccer resembles its more conventional sporting cousin, but because of the surface it’s played on, the beach variety of the game requires a handful of rule changes. Shoes, cleats, and shin pads are not allowed, although players are permitted to wear socks if they choose to protect their feet from the heat and hidden objects buried in the sand. The games are played on fields considerably smaller than a standard soccer pitch, feature 14-minute halves, and teams have five players per side on the field at any time, with players able to change on the fly the way they do in hockey.
That makes beach soccer a fast-paced, action-packed, and, at times, frantic game. Toss in the heat, and players are usually spent at the end of each game.
“It’s definitely a great workout,” Duncan says. “I think that’s the biggest reason the field size is smaller and the halves are shorter, because trying to do anything on the sand is difficult, let alone running around and kicking the ball and trying to make passes to your teammates. You certainly get tired out by the end of the weekend. Beach soccer is less strategic than regular soccer. You’re just going out and playing. I’d say it’s less about finesse and more about guts. There are no offsides and we do kick-ins instead of throw-ins.”
The sport of beach soccer was created in Brazil and is played with regularity on beaches throughout South America. Although not mainstream by any stretch, beach soccer continues to grow each year in Canada, and there are now three annual tournaments in this country. There is one in Ontario and one in New Brunswick, but there is no question that the Soccer Express/Umbro Beach Soccer Blast at Spanish Banks is easily the biggest—and organizers, although somewhat partial, feel it’s also the best.
With divisions for kids under 10 right up through the teen years and six separate adult divisions, the Beach Blast is a fully inclusive event and offers something for everyone, whether they’re just out for a good time or looking to get the competitive juices flowing.
“We’ve got two women’s divisions, two men’s divisions, and two coed divisions,” Duncan explains. “With the adults, we have a recreational division and what we call an open division, which is a more competitive division. We see lots of really skilled players from various leagues around town, and that’s what makes the open divisions as competitive as they are.”
One of the things that has propelled the growth of the Beach Blast over the past decade is the support it has received from the conventional soccer community in Vancouver. Many teams and players use the summer event as a wind-up to their winter leagues, while others use it as the unofficial start of their fall play.
But organizers feel that one of the best things about the tournament is that lots of people unaffiliated with soccer programs of any kind participate. They just want to get out and enjoy the many elements of the tournament that embody Vancouver in the summertime: sun, sand, ocean views, and a healthy lifestyle.
“The soccer community has embraced this and has been very generous to us,” Duncan says. “A lot of the local soccer clubs are involved and have helped promote the event and provide equipment. But that’s one of the neat things about beach soccer and about this event, is that you don’t have to be playing on a soccer team during the year. You just get your friends together and you’ve got a team. And with the coed divisions, it’s a nice opportunity to play with people you normally wouldn’t play with or to get people who’ve never really played soccer involved and out in the sun for the weekend and have some fun.”
There’s that word again.
Although it’s true that Vancouver has lost several high-profile sports teams and events for a variety of reasons over the past 10 years, it doesn’t mean that all has been lost. The Soccer Express/Umbro Beach Soccer Blast is proof that sporting good times can still be found in this city. And on the August 7 to 9 weekend, Spanish Banks looks like the place to be for people who want to get their kicks.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio, Team 1040. E-mail him at email@example.com.