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Field Notes: Beach Volleyball

Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the competitive world of beach volleyball.


photoS: david croxford



Beach volleyball is the outdoor, barefoot, sand-court variation of traditional indoor volleyball. The rules vary from the indoor game, teams have two players rather than six, and the customary attire consists of bikinis and board shorts. Honolulu has a well-established community of fiercely competitive beach volleyballers who are nuts about their sport.


Tall people with long limbs and ideal body-mass indexes. Short people, and people with beer bellies, whose tactical sense and ball-handling skills compensate for their physical deficits. Friendly players. Cut-throat players. Beach bums. Court hogs. Volleyball snobs.

Surfers on days when the waves suck. Internationally ranked professional players and homegrown Olympians—beach volleyball has been an Olympic sport since 1996—who run youth clinics and tournaments.

Women’s beach volleyball teams from Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade University and the University of Hawaii. Recently, the visiting Toyota Auto Body Queenseis, a pro club from Japan, which cut loose at the beach before an indoor exhibition match with UH’s Rainbow WAhine (the Queenseis won).

People whose social lives revolve around beach volleyball, and who organize weekend trips to the North Shore to picnic, drink beer and play beach volleyball. People who carry volleyball nets around in the backs of their cars, just in case. People who say things like, “Beach volleyball’s not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.”


Although Oahu is ringed with beaches, surprisingly few have the level expanses of sand suited for beach volleyball. Sloping beaches are no good. Honolulu has just three public-beach volleyball areas. Each has buried concrete anchors to hold up the nets. Each also has its own regular players and its own distinct character. Here’s the overview:

Located in the heart of Waikiki, across from the entrance to the zoo, Queen’s is Honolulu’s most bustling beach volleyball spot. With four courts, it’s also the largest. Pro players, Hawaii’s collegiate teams and all sorts of talented amateurs keep the level of competition high. Tourists under the mistaken impression that anybody can drop in on a game are routinely rebuffed. Demand for the courts is high, and conflicts between various groups sometimes arise, but only rarely are the police called to intervene.

Military personnel have priority on these courts, which are part of the Fort DeRussy Armed Forces Recreation Center. Otherwise, play is dominated by a territorial crew of regulars, who can keep unfamiliar faces waiting for hours to get a game. These are the only courts with permanent nets; at the other courts you have to bring your own. DeRussy has a reputation for “jungle ball”—a style of play in which the game’s rules are loosely observed, if they’re observed at all.

Three courts at the Ewa end of the beach are the best bet for casual players. The character of the game here is partly defined by the self-described  group of “intermediate and up” players who meet every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. A guy named Mike, who sets up the net, sees to it that nobody with fundamental volleyball skills gets excluded. “I bring the net, so I get to make the rules,” he says.

Did you know? Under beach volleyball rules, substitutions are not allowed. The same players who start the game have to finish the game.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2019
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