By Helen Tuman
Last Saturday morning, while most of Santa Cruz was still sleeping off their Friday nights, 60 die-hard volleyball players made their way to Harbor Beach to compete in the fifth annual Old School Shoes Open.
The Old School Shoes Open is part of the Harbor Beach Open Tour, the only professional volleyball tour that comes to Santa Cruz.
“Most tours are in SoCal,” event organizer Dave Yeakel said. “But there’s local talent here too.”
Yeakel has been trying to bring professional beach volleyball back to Santa Cruz for a long time.
“There was a void in pro volleyball in Santa Cruz,” Yeakel said. “I tried to fill it with a pro-level tournament, but with a nice relaxed atmosphere.”
Most of the players in attendance are Santa Cruz natives, or visitors who got hooked on beach volleyball the first time they played it and never left. Each person adds a different dynamic to form a close-knit community of beach volleyball players.
“Everyone knows everyone here,” Yeakel said. “It’s nice, but we could always use more people.”
Brandy Lewis, a Chico native, moved out to Santa Cruz to play beach volleyball.
“This tournament is fun,” Lewis said. “Others are more serious. You get ratings and points. But this one is for fun, music and food.”
The sponsor, Old School Shoes, is a shoe store on Pacific Avenue, and the tournament is special because it plays with old-school rules.
Old-school rules mean that the court is 20 percent larger, there are no antennas on the nets, and the scoring system is different as well: a team is only able to score when it serves the ball.
“The rules are fun but hard,” participant James Kelly said. “Everyone is used to the new rules. It’s hard to get used to the old ones again.”
In addition to great competition, the Old School Shoes Open has another incentive: prizes. The prizes total $6,000 worth of dinners, gym passes, glasses and Old School cash.
“People should come to play,” Lewis said. “Plus you get free lunch, beer, and there are good prizes.”
All in all, about 30 teams showed up for the two-day extravaganza. The Open was a double elimination tournament. Saturday hosted the men’s open, women’s pros and women’s college division. On Sunday, players participated in the women’s open and men’s pros.
Though the final game was scheduled to go until 5 p.m. Saturday night, it continued past 7 p.m., as did the excitement. Throughout the day a live DJ performed and a crowd of supporters cheered athletes on.
The Harbor Beach Open Tour holds nine events per year, and eight are in Santa Cruz. The Old School Shoes Open was the second one held so far, with the next one, Airel Events Open, scheduled for June 21 and 22 at Harbor Beach.
“The more people we can get involved, the better,” Kelly said. “It’s a fun thing to get involved in. Everyone’s welcome, that’s for sure.”