Beach Volleyball started as a leisurely pastime and nowadays has become a competitive Olympic sport. Whereas the origins of the sport comes from The Hawaiian Islands in the early 1900’s, the beach courts in Santa Monica, CA in the 1920’s and the mythic Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by the 1930’s.
In the early days, the sport was played with either 6 or 4 players on each side and later was settled into the 2-on-2 format and the smaller court dimensions that we see today. The first significant tournaments were held in the 1940’s in both Brazil and the US. And by the 50’s, both countries held a small number of tournaments, making by far, the most organized and advanced countries in the sport. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the beach players came from indoor clubs and colleges, with only a few playing beach only. There was no professionalism in beach volleyball in those days.
With the creation of the FIVB in 1947, many countries started to participate and develop their own leagues and championships, but it was not until the 1980’s that beach volleyball would arrive as a major international sport. Brazil held an exhibition 4-on-4 tournament in 1984 with their top indoor players called Hollywood Volley. Due to the success in the televised event, the second Hollywood Volley in 1985 was the first major international event in the world, with Brazil and the US winning their fair share of events. Several internationally recognized players participated, including; Renan, Sinjin Smith, Pat Powers, Roseli, Nina Matthies, Jackie Silva, William and Karch Kiraly.
In 1987, the FIVB held the first Beach Volleyball World Championship in Ipanema Beach, Brazil. With the games being televised, the attendance reaching over 5,000 screaming fans and the prize money of USD$ 22,000 – Beach Volleyball had arrived internationally. The winners of this tournament were fixtures for many years to come, including 1st Place Stoklos and Smith, 2nd Place Kiraly and Powers and the Brazilians in third. In fact, Stoklos and Smith were called Kings of Rio, because they won 5 World Championships. The Brazilians won for the first time in 1993 with Franco and Roberto Lopes.
Even though the first tourneys were held in Ipanema Beach, it was in the mythic sands of Copacabana that beach volleyball exploded into the scene. With the larger sand area, Copacabana was able to pack in more than 12,000 fans with their drums, horns and small beach attire. Copacabana may not be the birthplace of sand volleyball, but it is certainly the soul capital or the Wimbledon of sand volleyball.
Since then, the US created the very strong AVP in the 1990’s, Beach Volleyball became an Olympic Sport in 1996 and Brazil developed by most accounts, the best national tour in the world. The FIVB organizes The World Championships every other year and the FIVB Tour is currently used as qualification for the Olympic Games. Brazil and US are the most dominant countries in beach volleyball, with Brazil winning the most Olympic medals (13) but the US winning the most Gold (6) medals. In the FIVB World Championships, Brazil dominates with 29 medals (11 Gold) and the US is second with 14 medals (5 Gold).
Beach Volleyball is currently one of the most sought after events in the Olympics and in the US, has become the fastest growing sport in collegiate history. There are currently over 60 colleges fielding teams in the beach competition and many of them offering scholarships.