Just Another Day in the Sand

Who turned beach volleyball into an Olympic sport?

Let's get one thing straight: Whoever is looking for cliches about Jerusalem and the beach, sea and holiness and all the other wisecracks - including statistics about how many tons of sand are blown in from Tel Aviv - should just search on Google for beach volleyball in Jerusalem and watch a Channel Two clip about last year's tournament there.

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Assaf Gavron
Emil Salman


No, not just because we are the sports department, where we talk about sport and not about things like Jerusalem, sand, sun and the beach. I for one can't stand the beach, and one of the reasons I can't stand the beach is because there is so much sand. I don't find sand pleasant. It's hot, dirty, slippery. Maybe it's because I'm a former denizen of Jerusalem. But we don't talk about this kind of stuff in the sports department; just sports.

In contrast to football or badminton, beach volleyball is a precise description of the sport it designates. It's got a volleyball and it's played on the beach. Besides, it has two teams of two and black ribbons embedded in the sand to mark the borders. Then there's music playing at 200,000 decibels pounding in your head like a local DJ with a lit cigarette in his hand and head movements to show that he likes the beat, judging by the tournament held there this week.

A board declared that an amazing dance party would be held at 7.00 P.M. with Tony Fox, a DJ from Holland, and then announced that, on court number 3, the Beverly Hills and Philosophy teams would be competing.

The women playing gather their hair in a ponytail, wear black pants and tournament shirts from the Jerusalem municipality. Only one team played in bathing suits, until it got too cold.

They are tanned, muscular and barefoot. They paint their toenails black, turquoise or red, and come from Be'er Sheva or Ra'anana - two other beach powers in our country, it turns out. They roar "Ola" and "Hopa" after winning a point and encourage one another after losing one, just like Andy Ram, and make accurate, twisting serves.

Beverly Hills wins. My short interview is done shouting over the horrible sounds emanating from the DJ's table. They are Lina and Tom from Be'er Sheva. They read about the tournament in a flier distributed at school. They say they practiced a few times before coming but were never in Beverly Hills. Most teams chose names based on coastal cities and states, English soccer teams or colorful weather patterns (Purple Rain, White Snow ).

Some moments fly by where you feel like you're watching a real sport: An arm muscle extends, a hand tenses, toes stand firm in the sand, and ankles bend. A body dives parallel to the sand, long fingers manage to block the ball's path. The ball yaws heavenward. The other player eats sand in a low sprint, bends on one knee, crosses hands, and sends the descending ball back up. The teammate rises quickly, hops and forcefully sends the ball into an open corner. It's minimal movement, maximum result. A mouth opens wide in a roar of euphoria, but a little sweat drips from the forehead.

You expect these moments from a serious team like the Israeli national squad. They look like they're from Tel Aviv, like the national beach volleyball team should. They came in dark blue shirts declaring "TEAM ISRAEL," not the city's awful shirts. They have matching white visor hats and matching red-blue pants, both from Adidas, along with bikerider sunglasses. They sent three men's teams and two women's teams. A men's team takes on a Jerusalem team called Amateurs. The moment one sees them jump as they serve, give each other signs behind their backs, and anticipate their opponents' moves and block them, it's clear they'll tear them apart.

But even when Team Israel is playing, beach volleyball is boring. It's for the beach, in between dips in the water and Popsicle bites. So, who's the idiot who turned it into an Olympic sport? And when there's not even a sea to break the boredom but Jerusalem stone... well, I've had enough.

One more thing about Jerusalem before I go: Jerusalem, before and after this tournament, is a repressed city. It's got people in it, even prime ministers, who are convinced it is thriving, safe and unified. Seriously, I heard a speech like that recently. So to imagine a beach and to play a beach game is a relatively minor denial of this city's reality. It's not terrible. It's just a little forlorn.