The Pro Beach Volleyball Series—did you know there was one?—is the perfect microcosm of life in California. The athletes are uniformly tan, lean and beautiful—burners, peelers and anyone less than six feet tall need not apply. Their athleticism as they perform in two-man teams that cover the 29½ X 59-foot playing space (same as the indoor game) like a giant beach blanket is obvious yet elegant, a flashy, macho ballet staged on sand. The players don't perspire—they ooze cocoa butter and baby oil from every pore.
Spectators are also quintessential Southern California types—interested, yet only half-involved. They watch a few points, disappear for a dip in the soothing blue-green ocean, return to watch a few more, then drift away to catch the bikini contests that accompany most of the tournaments. These are, after all, the only fans in the world who do a wave without getting out of their beach chairs. Honest, they just throw up their hands. Is that California or what?
Coming soon to a theater near you: Beach Blanket Volleyball Bingo, starring Jan-Michael Vincent, John Schneider and Phoebe Cates, with Barbi Benton as The Spike Queen, music by Katrina and the Waves.
No way. Lift those Walkman earphones and listen up. Beneath the placid, sun-drenched, play-and-party crust of professional beach volleyball is an underlayer of money squabbles, commercial contracts, unions, lawyers and work stoppages. Beach volleyball is a business.
Once you're settled on your spectator blanket, ready to mellow out, you'll need a pair of earplugs to shut out the relentless commercial barrage:
"Stop by and check out the new Chevy S-10 pickup truck to the right of the stage. They're tough and dependable."
"Don't forget there's still time to sign up for the Miss Miller High Life Pageant. Five-hundred-dollar first-place prize."
"Remember the Spike beach chair, the exclusive beach chair of the Pro Beach Volleyball Tour. Don't plant your buns in anything else."
Pro beach volleyball is funded entirely through corporate sponsorship. For instance, for the $13,000 Miller Long Beach Open at Belmont Shore in June, the Miller Brewing Company put up every penny of the tournament's money. Jose Cuervo Tequila is the tour's other major sponsor.
There are also several co-sponsors, e.g., Bolle' America (sunglasses), Tropical Blend (tanning products) and Chevrolet (you know what). In exchange for a sanctioning fee, co-sponsors get to push their products at tournaments, and push they do.