Beach volleyball is one of the more popular spectator sports. Photo: Courtesy of Kristine Eng
Despite China’s superb showing in the 2008 Olympic beach volleyball competition, that perennial summertime sport of coastal areas the world over remains more or less a novelty here, with even the nets of Beijing-backyard beach hangout Beidaihe lying fallow during a recent visit. But that hasn’t stopped the intrepid crew of Beijing’s first beach volleyball league from staking out their claim as the city’s most dedicated sun worshippers, despite the numerous difficulties of establishing a thriving beach volleyball team in a city not exactly known for its seashore culture. According to league founder Kristine Eng, finding the right venue was the most difficult aspect to nail down, and one she and the other team leaders have struggled long and hard with.
"You can’t venture outside the fourth ring road – it’s a real red zone, way too far for most expats to travel," she said. 
"The only viable option for us is Chaoyang Park, and we’ve had to do so much back-and-forth with them over using it."
Detailing the negotiations she’s attempted in the face of the park’s constantly-shifting raft of prices and regulations over the two summers she’s tried to establish the league, Eng said that the arrival of the BTV-sponsored Chaoyang Park Beach Carnival at last brought some stability to the situation – though at a staggeringly high price of 120 yuan for a day pass. During the summer of 2009 a pass was only 20 yuan.
"At that point we knew there were no more negotiations we could offer, and it was time to bring in a sponsor," she said. Initially reaching out to Blue Frog Bar & Restaurant – a sponsor of the Beijing Flag Football League, which counts beach volleyball league co-founder Adam Guli among its members as well – the popular Sanlitun hangout decided it didn’t have enough in its coffers to sponsor another organized sports team, forcing Eng and her crew to look elsewhere
"At one point we were in talks with a sponsor to import sand from Hainan and actually build a venue from scratch," she said, "but by then we were already about halfway through the summer, and it wasn’t worth going to the trouble when we only had a few months left of play."
Finally securing a deal with All-Star Sports Bar & Grill, Eng said that the terms of the sponsorship are such that the company can support her goal of a weekly tourna-ment every Saturday afternoon – but only for the most dedicated players.
Beach volleyball is one of the more popular spectator sports. Photo: Courtesy of Kristine Eng
"We make our players pay up front and collect the receipt, and then at the end of the month we take a look at who’s been taking the time to show up week after week, and reimburse them appropri-ately," she said. "It definitely means that not everyone can be covered, but I think it encourages people to really put in that extra effort."
Eng said that she’s managed to cull together a group of about 15 hard-core players, whittled down from an initial, far more casual troupe of over 30.
"Next year we’ll arrange tryouts to make sure that we can coordinate people’s skill levels," she said, explaining that the most important thing she’ll be looking for is people who understand the rules.
"In beach volleyball, each side has three hits: receiving the ball, setting it up for the attacker to spike it to the other side, and finally pounding the ball into someone’s face on the other side," she said. "Three hits is action-packed and exciting to watch; it gets boring if it’s just two people bumping it back and forth."
Just as important as maintaining proper gameplay is exhibiting the right sportsmanlike attitude, an opinion shared by Eng and her co-founder alike. "We really want to make sure that people are there to have fun and will take it seriously but are not overly competitive," Guli said.
"Basically we want good people to come out, commit and play some ball," Eng said. "Providing a bit of eye candy for the spectators doesn’t hurt either."
Now officially christened the All-Star Sports Bar & Grill Beach Volleyball Team, the team meets every Saturday from 2 pm to 6 pm, with informal but contractually stipulated meetings at All- Star either before or after each tournament. Those interested in joining or who wish to receive more information can e-mail kristine.
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