Like almost every other event organizer, Jenny Graham is crossing her fingers that summer has finally arrived in this city. As the tournament director for the Corona Open, this country’s top professional beach-volleyball tournament, Graham absolutely needs the sun to shine.
Beach volleyball isn’t much fun for anyone unless the action is smokin’ hot—on and off the court. Hard bodies, skimpy swimwear, sweat, and sand are always in abundance at Kits Beach. But from July 17 to 20, the poseurs who patrol Vancouver’s primary pickup place won’t be the top attraction. They’ll be upstaged by a bunch of people who actually have game—and plenty of it. A hundred and fifty or so of the best beach-volleyball players from across this country and throughout the western United States will gather at Kits to give it their all.
“It’s the best volleyball that we have in Vancouver,” Graham tells the Georgia Straight by phone from her Volleyball B.C. office in Burnaby. “The best players come out just for this one event. And it’s pretty much the only time that you get that in your own back yard. The rest of the time our best players are going elsewhere for competition, travelling down to Seattle and over to Alberta and Toronto. This is the only time that everyone’s here in Vancouver.”
The Corona Open is the fourth and final tournament of the Pro Beach Series, a set of local events that serve as qualifiers for this featured tournament of the summer. Once the fields are set, the Corona Open will include 32 teams of two in both the men’s and women’s draws vying for a piece of the $15,000 prize pool. (The money is divided evenly between the men and women.) Of those 64 teams, the ones that win it all will walk off with $3,300 to share, and the runners-up will split $2,000—not bad for a weekend’s work (if you can call it that).
“It’s the largest amount of prize money, so I’d say this is the best tournament in Canada this year. It’s awesome,” says Graham. This is the 16th straight year this city has hosted an open pro beach-volleyball event (although the tournament name and sponsors have changed). “There are a lot more players travelling up from the States this year. They seem really excited about what’s going on in Vancouver.”
And with good reason.
Given British Columbia’s many kilometres of sandy coastline, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this province is a hotbed for high-calibre beach volleyball. Almost all of that homegrown talent will be on display during this year’s Corona Open. Among the local men to keep an eye on are Port Moody’s Jon Wiskar, Ross Ballard of Squamish, Sechelt’s Ryan Cawsey, Victoria residents Dan Casey and Adam Parkes, and Martin Reader of Comox.
The women’s draw includes Richmond’s Krystyna Adams and Jamie Broder of Victoria and is highlighted by the return of two-time defending champions Barb Bellini of White Rock and her teammate, Joanne Ross, who is from Montreal but is living and playing out of Vancouver.
“We have a couple of players who are carded as national athletes,” Graham says of the local talent that will be on display next month. “Most of the other players have played university or college ball at some point in their careers, and some have played internationally. We’ll have players ranging in age from 18 to 40. A lot of the older players didn’t start playing beach volleyball until they were done with their indoor careers. But now we’re getting a lot of players who are younger who are playing both indoor and beach and it’s just making volleyball better across the country.”
Graham knows the sport of beach volleyball will get a boost from the global exposure it receives when the best on the planet go for gold in Beijing in a bit more than a month. And she says anyone heading to Kits Beach next month to catch some of the Corona Open will likely get a glimpse of players who will represent this country in the next Summer Olympics in London.
“A bunch of these teams are hoping to go to the next Olympics, so events like this are a training tool for them,” she says. “They want to be a part of the Games in 2012.”
Competition in the pro division of the Corona Open will be strong. But the tournament isn’t just about the games being played on Kits Beach’s 13 courts. It’s about showcasing beach volleyball and allowing those who haven’t played the game an opportunity to give it a try.
“We’re going to run a kids’ camp on the Thursday, so the players that are playing in the tournament are going to get to coach some of the young kids and expose them to the sport,” Graham explains. “Friday is the final qualifying event, and all day Saturday is mostly focused on the pros and the tournament. But on the Sunday we also run a charity tournament for KidSport; it’s a coed sixes tournament [pro players eliminated from the tournament will be added to each team of six players] and anybody can register for that.”
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with simply watching. There’s always plenty to see at a beach-volleyball tournament. And that makes the Corona Open one of the real go-to events of the summer in this city.
“Kits Beach sells itself on a sunny day; everybody’s there anyway,” Graham says. “But with beach volleyball, the beer garden, and everything else that’s going on, it’ll be a pretty big deal.”
Graham has done all she can to make sure the Corona Open is a great tournament for players and fans alike this summer. The rest is up to Mother Nature.