Kicking Up Sand

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Bicycle kicks, scissor kicks and scorpion kicks aren’t very common on soccer pitches, but when it comes to beach soccer, players are flying around like daredevils. More players are being drawn to the sport because of the stunt-like and exciting moves it involves through its fast pace game speed and soft sand landings.

The fifth annual Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk tournament was held from May 31 through June 1. Over 150 teams participated in the event, ranging from teams consisting of boys and girls under eight, to older adult coed teams. The games were played on the beach right behind the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, so even people who were there for the amusement park caught a glimpse of the action.

“We sponsor many of the teams. We have been a for-profit corporation and now we are going to be a non-profit corporation,” said tournament director Philip Scicluna. “Overall, the tournament has been great. We’ve seen a great turnout of fans even with the limitations of the fields given by the city of Santa Cruz.”

These limitations consisted of the portion of the beach the tournament was allotted for the games. Which isn’t as high as it potentially could be at this time of the year — most likely because of all of the activities currently happening down at the boardwalk, such as the amusement park attendees and the volleyball players.

One of the most exciting games was the adult championship game between Santa Cruz’n and LABSC (Los Angeles Beach Soccer Club). It was an uphill battle for Santa Cruz’n due to the quick start from LABSC ­— they built a two goal lead in the early moments of the game. In the second half, the game got scrappy due to a dangerous and rough tackle from a Santa Cruz’n player. In the end, LABSC was crowned champion by defeating Santa Cruz’n 8-4.

“It was a really tough game, we had a bunch of locals and a couple from Cabrillo College,” said Santa Cruz’n player and UCSC club player Trent Gurley. “It was a well fought win and we tried to get out early.”

Soccer on the beach may seem more dangerous because people play with bare feet, but it’s much safer than playing on a standard soccer pitch. Because it’s hard to slide, players have to be on their feet most of the time, so less injuries occur.

Playing beach soccer allows players to shoot from anywhere on the field because the area of play on the sand is much smaller than the average grass soccer field. This is part of the reason why the games are so high scoring and exciting. A player becomes a scoring threat as soon as he enters the game.

“There are less players on the sand,” said Santa Cruz’n player Matthew V. “The game is mostly played in the air rather than dribbling. There are a lot of volleys and aerial maneuvers. There are less touches and there is a faster pace. Overall, it’s just a different kind of game.”

The majority of players out there this weekend learned to play soccer on traditional soccer pitches. Players had different reasons for why they chose to compete in beach soccer and adjust their games from the grass to the sand. Some participants liked the variety of different shots beach soccer allowed them to take, and some just liked playing in the sun with the ocean at their backs. LABSC and Slug FC player Trent Gurley got into it through his older brother.

“I was in high school when I started to play,” Gurley said. “I was at a tournament with my brother’s team and they needed a man so I joined in. Ever since then I have been a part of this beautiful game.”

Matthew V. has played beach soccer for 10 years and every year he’s participated in tournaments throughout California. Before playing, he was a soccer player at Breakers Academy in Santa Cruz. Matthew is now looking to become a college player and still continues to develop his beach soccer skills.

“I hit a bicycle kick goal the day before,” Matthew V. said. “The thrill of scoring a goal like that is amazing — not only for me but for the fans cheering me on.”

Beach soccer is slowly becoming a popular sport, with tournaments held around the country, pro-leagues around the world and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup held every two years. Players like Trent Gurley and Matthew V. are hopeful for the sport to get bigger so they have an opportunity to show off their skills on the sand.

“Tournaments like this help the game gain popularity,” Gurley said. “In the next five to 10 years, people will start noticing the sport more.”