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Manhattan Beach: The Spiritual Home Of American Beach Volleyball


In Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic beach volleyball tournaments are coming to a close. The women's medal matches are tonight, and the men play tomorrow. One place where people are certain to tune in - Manhattan Beach, Calif. It's a spiritual home to the sport and the actual home of one of its greatest players, Kerri Walsh Jennings. NPR's Becky Sullivan paid a visit.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's clear pretty much from the moment you step foot on the sands that this place has it bad for beach volleyball.

JESSE CONNOR: Oh, yeah - super big deal here - look how many courts there are for volleyball (laughter). It's like that's all there is.

SULLIVAN: Jesse Connor is waving his arm at the volleyball nets which dot the beach literally the entire length of the city limits. He's here teaching beach volleyball lessons. It's about 7 in the evening. The sun is getting low over the water. Dozens of people are out playing.

DANIEL HEGGLIN: It's just so easy because it doesn't cost much money. It's - you need a ball and a net. That's it.

SULLIVAN: Daniel Hegglin is here with Ed Jamgotchian and Peter Joyce.

ED JAMGOTCHIAN: You know, it's the best workout you could have right here.

PETER JOYCE: So we all worked today and then no better way to end the work day than come down here and play volleyball - sunset, beautiful weather.

SULLIVAN: Manhattan Beach has a long history with beach volleyball. The pier doubles as a volleyball Walk of Fame with little bronze plaques commemorating the winners of each year's Manhattan Beach Open volleyball tournament, which is the longest-running contest in the sport. Five of the 8 Olympians have their names inscribed here, the former gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings seven times.

Another one of the coaches teaching here tonight, Ryan Olsen, tells me that some of the Olympians live and practice nearby. He's even played with Phil Dalhausser, who just lost in the Olympic quarter finals. Both of the U.S. men's teams are already out of the running, but Ryan Olsen and his friend Jesse Conner tell me they have more confidence in the women's duo, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross.

CONNOR: Oh yeah, oh yeah, they're going to - they're for sure going to win. They have to.

RYAN OLSEN: Yeah, they were 5-0 in...

CONNOR: I'd be so...

OLSEN: ...Group play, right?

CONNOR: I'd be so confused if they didn't win.

SULLIVAN: This was just before Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross played in last night's semifinals against the Brazilian team, which they lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, nice shot.

SULLIVAN: Kevin Quinn and Ashley Burke are taking lessons here, too. They've just moved to Manhattan Beach from Manhattan, N.Y. They admit that they haven't watched every Olympic match.

ASHLEY BURKE: We're reformed New Yorkers. We're getting there.


SULLIVAN: But they've watched more this year than ever before.

BURKE: Yeah.


BURKE: I definitely care more now that we live here and, like, the whole hometown, you know?

QUINN: We saw the Manhattan Beach Open a few weeks ago as well.

BURKE: Yeah.

QUINN: So that was super exciting.

BURKE: Yeah, the guys that won were in the Olympics - just was really cool.

QUINN: Yeah, it's just cool to see how, like - how excited everyone is, too 'cause it's kind of part of the heartbeat of the beach. So...

BURKE: Yeah.

QUINN: It's cool to see.

SULLIVAN: They weren't going to make it home in time for last night's semifinals, but they did agree to each other to watch the medal matches tonight.

QUINN: Let's shake on it right now.


QUINN: It's happening.

BURKE: It's a deal.

QUINN: (Laughter).

SULLIVAN: So Quinn and Burke and the rest of Manhattan Beach will be watching tonight as Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross play for the bronze. Becky Sullivan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.

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