In Huntington Beach, two-man volleyball on the sand at the crowded Lake Street courts just south of the pier is so popular that a challenger's wait in the summer can stretch to two hours. Orange County courts are as varied as the people who play on them. In Seal Beach, there is a court some kids know as "Old Man's," where those whose skills surpass their stamina are said to play. All along the stretch of west Newport, there are courts known by numbered streeets. One, at 52nd Street, is said to thrive when a sometime resident--known simply as Chuck to most--is in town, always attracting highly competitive players. With the passing summers, courts' reputations shift and change like the sand they are built on, but some endure as a sure place to find good competition.
Huntington Beach, First Street Beach
Serious players disdain the double court here because the net runs "the wrong way"--parallel to the ocean rather than perpendicular to it. Built as it is, the wind blows down the length of the court, forcing balls to sail too long from one side and making it possible to serve a severe drop ball into the wind from the other. But the ample parking (with fee) and proximity to the pier make it a popular spot. The double court allows "work-up" challenges, which speed the play and increase the competition. In work-ups, the winner from Court 1 advances to play the winner at Court 2, with two new teams playing on Court 1 for the right to challenge the next winner on Court 2. The players here are typically high-school age or slightly older, and the court is only occasionally visited by professional players. The popularity of the spot puts it on the black list for some local players. "That's like the place to go if you have a bus pass," said Steve Pemper, 21, who played volleyball at Huntington Beach High School and briefly at Cal State Long Beach. "Anything that close to the pier, everyone comes there from Encino or Covina."Newport Beach, Colton Street Beach
"Just say it's too weak," said Corey Glave, a professional player as he lounged in the sand. "Just say, Don't go to Colton Street." Many people consider the double court at Colton Street, just south of the Santa Ana River jetty, to be the home of the best competition in Orange County. But although people here are friendly, it has a reputation as an insider's court, almost a private club on a public beach, where the competition is keen and newcomers are not always welcome--unless they are very good. Even on an overcast day, you can find high-caliber competition here. Among those who have dropped by to play or watch are Carlos Briceno, Adam Lockwood and Laura Phillips, former area high school players who later played for the University of Hawaii; Albert Gasparian, a coach at Golden West College; and Rick Ownbey, a former Savanna High School and Rancho Santiago College pitcher who started 16 games in the major leagues and was thinking of trying professional beach volleyball. "For whatever reason, it's a good spot," Corey said. "There's parking, bathrooms and showers nearby and a pizza shop across the street."
Corona del Mar State Beach
Known as Big Corona, this large crescent-shaped beach just east of the jetty at the entrance to Newport Bay has 10 courts. The eight sets of bright-blue poles at the north end of the beach allow the height of the net to be adjusted, and are popular with company and family outings--what more serious players sometimes call "hack ball" or "jungle ball." This is a good spot for groups because challenges are not the standard. If you bring your own net and ropes, holding the court for your group is usually acceptable. At the south end of the beach there are two courts where two-man challenges are the norm and the competition is better. These are the courts where longtime Corona del Mar locals tend to play. There is a parking lot (with fee) and street parking nearby. Big Corona is particularly popular in the evenings.Laguna Beach, Main Beach
The net strung between two palms here may be the most picturesque along the coast, and as the home of the 35-year-old Laguna Beach Open tournament, Laguna has a spot of its own in the lore of beach volleyball. The city of Laguna Beach maintains three courts--four during tournaments--and also provides nets and rope boundaries. Although Laguna at times has been clearly the home of the best local competition, insiders' opinions vary on the current level of play. But this has been as certain a spot as any to see professional players, including Karch Kiraly, who lives in San Clemente. The level of play occasionally excludes players who are not rated by volleyball organizations. "That's sort of Russian roulette there," said Bill Ashen, who coached the men's team at UC Irvine. "If you lose, you're usually going to sit down the rest of the day. You might as well go to another beach." There is street parking only, usually very crowded. But depending on the day and time, less serious players often get a chance to play. "The better players go there and play the pros," said Jim Kemper, 18, who often plays at Capistrano Beach. "If you're just decent, you'd better come to Capo Beach."
Orange County Beach Volleyball: In Brief
1.Huntington Beach, First Street Beach: Courts are busy because of the location, but top players prefer courts with nets perpendicular to the ocean rather than parallel.
2.Corona del Mar State Beach: Two courts with nets and boundary lines, with at least one net at women's height at all times. Popular with high school students and women professionals.
3.Newport Beach, Colton Street Beach: Side-by-side courts are frequented by college players, local coaches and occasionally professionals.
4.Laguna Beach, Main Beach: Three courts with nets and boundary lines, including one net strung between palm trees.