Beach Volleyball was originally a California import. It was first played on the beaches in Santa Monica in 1920 many years before the Beach Boys singing “Surfin Safari” and Baywatch (the old one) popularized California beach culture.
By the late 1920’s, it had even spread to Latvia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Go figure.
When the US was going through the Great Depression in the 1930’s, beach volleyball became a wildly popular low cost activity for families while on an outing to the beach.
The first unofficial tournaments there were often paired with beauty contests. The scene attracted many celebrities and actors in the 1950’s. The Beatles were even rumoured to have played a few games of beach volleyball while visiting California.
The Balmy Beach Club in the Beaches area of Toronto may be the first place doubles beach volleyball was played in Canada but there is a proud history of beach volleyball in this province.
Locally, beach volleyball was being played at Grand Beach by 1950. Grand Beach boasted the largest dance pavilion in the Commonwealth until Chrystal Palace was built. It was such a popular excursion that two trains a day ran out there until 1961.
After the dance hall burned down on Labour Day 1950, the area was cleared and made into volleyball courts to add to the ones on the north side of the boardwalk.
“When I was a kid in the mid 60’s the main courts were packed all the time,” recalls Garth Pischke about playing on Grand Beach.
“We’d find cigarette papers on the ground and use a rock and one of the rusty nails from the dance hall to nail our names to the pole to show we were up next. We’d then play the winners and if we won we’d stay on the court,” he says.
“In later years we tied towels to the pole instead of using nails. The closer to play you were the higher up your towel was. If you lost your towel went back down to the bottom,” Pischke adds.
Pischke credits Wezer Bridle’s influence with turning him from just a kid playing volleyball at Grand Beach to representing Team Canada in volleyball in two Olympic Games to becoming the senior coach for the U of M Bisons volleyball team.
“He was a great ambassador for the sport,” says Pischke, who fondly remembers a trip Bridle took his young players on that stands out. (See additional article on Wezer Bridle below)
“Some teams went to Trinidad. I was on one of his teams that went to a tournament in Curacao. It was trips like these that got guys like myself excited about volleyball.”
After doubles beach volleyball became an official Olympic sport at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics it grew in popularity. Pischke has been promoting it here since the late 1980’s.
Because the doubles format was played at the Olympics more and more people adopted it. It became a Canada Games sport at the 2001 summer Games in London, ON.
Volleyball has given Pischke many opportunities and his daughter Taylor has followed in his footsteps. She has traveled the world on the FIVB (Fédération Internationale de Volleyball) circuit, had a third place finish in the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto and is currently a member of the Beach Volleyball National Team.
Behind every great young player is a dedicated development association. Manitoba Volleyball Association had its foundations established by Bridle in the 1950’s from his basement.
Today, it goes by Volleyball Manitoba and has a mission to promote and facilitate growth and excellence in volleyball in the province. When introduced to volleyball at the initiation levels, kids learn appropriate movement and technical skills. Later, they learn how to compete both at home and internationally.
Research has shown it takes 10 years and 10,000 hours of training for a talented athlete to reach the top levels of competition. It takes a strong coaching team and organization to support a player through the Under 16 and Under 18 Championships, the Canada Games and onwards to the national team and maybe even the Olympics.
A billboard outside Cindy Klassen Recreation complex a few weeks ago was advertising the Sargent Park Beach Volleyball Centre as a legacy project of the Games but where are the courts?
An innovative relationship between Volleyball Manitoba and Speed Skating Manitoba has used the space inside the Susan Auch Speed Skating Oval for the volleyball courts. Summer is off season for speed skating so the two sports complement each other beautifully in a smart shared use of facilities.
You can walk around the track and see the golden sand but the volleyball specific features aren’t readily apparent. You don’t see the hi-tech drainage system under the courts and what looks like regular sand has actually been sieved many times and washed so it conforms to strict Canada Games specifications.
It’s now 99.85% pure sand and (approximately) 85% of the grains are between .25mm to .5 mm in size. It took 1700 cubic meters of sand trucked in from Richer, MB to fill the courts to the required depth (400 mm at the ends to 550mm in the centre). Volleyball Manitoba is rightfully proud of the new facility which will provide more training opportunities for Manitoba athletes and enable major competitions to be hosted in Winnipeg.
Come July 30, which is the first day of Beach Volleyball at the Canada Games, the atmosphere at the volleyball courts will be electric.
Picture the courts configured with two centre courts and two practice courts at each end. The nets are up and the net walls of the courts are covered in sponsor ads. Two thousand spectators are soaking up the sunshine while sitting on temporary bleachers. The first round robin matches are on. Rock music is playing before play starts. Because games will be played simultaneously on the two centre courts the atmosphere will be toned down so as not to distract the other players but beach volleyball always has a fun loving vibe.
It’s so much fun for the spectators that it’s easy to forget how hard the players have to work. Because it’s played two on two, like doubles tennis, each player has to excel at everything; serving, setting, passing, attacking and blocking. All this while running and jumping in sand on a court only slightly smaller than an indoor volleyball court.
The 21 point sets that have to be won with a two point advantage must seem interminable for the players who give it their all throughout the best of three. Their heroic dives and improbable blocks keep spectators on the edges of their seats with the thrill of seeing it live. There’s a lot of action at a Beach Volleyball game.
If you want some downtime, this venue makes it easy to be a spectator. The adjacent Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex contains an Olympic sized pool, a gym and the West End library. There’s even a Canadian/Thai cafe that does good Pad Thai if you want to grab a bite to eat. Lots of parking and great bus service make it easily accessible.
Manitoba has some very strong beach volleyball players but our new facility isn’t just for elite athletes. After the Games there will be 10 permanent courts that schools and community groups in the West End are welcome to use by contacting Volleyball Manitoba to arrange times to rent them. This could be where future Team Manitoba beach volleyball players will get their start.
Clarence (Wezer) Bridle (1926 – 2015)
Wezer Bridle was born in Winnipeg and served in the navy during the Second World War as a signalman on the Cowichan and the St. Laurent. Afterwards he worked for the Canadian National Railway for many years as a car man.
Wezer was a star player with the Winnipeg Redskins volleyball team from 1957-1962 that were consistently ranked amongst the top teams in Canada. Wezer continued to play on the Bandits with his sons into his seventies in the Winnipeg Men’s Volleyball League, an organization he was instrumental in starting in the 1960’s.
From early on Wezer worked tirelessly to promote the growth of volleyball for the youth of Manitoba and Canada. His wish was to make it more than just a school or recreational sport. In the late 1950’s, he organized a group of the best kids from the high school program and created the Central Y Kids.
In 1965 he coached them to Manitoba’s first Junior National Championship. From this group came the Age Class Development System used today. Wezer was also involved with the development of high school volleyball, and is a ‘Legend’ on the courts at Grand Beach where he introduced the game and encouraged so many to play.
In 1968 he was hired as the Head Coach at the University of Winnipeg, where he led the team to their first Canadian Inter-University Athletic Union (CIAU) titles.
Wezer was perhaps most well known as a Referee, officiating in Canada before the Canadian Volleyball Association was formed, or even had a national certification program. Well-versed in national and international volleyball etiquette, he was recognized as one of Manitoba and Canada’s top officials, was Canada’s first International Referee, and officiated domestically at too many national championships (including 26 consecutively) and CIAU matches to count.
On two different occasions he was Volleyball Canada’s National Officials Chairperson. As a Referee he was also involved with the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, at NORCECA Championships, along with many other international events and matches.
Wezer is also recognized as being instrumental in the forming of the Manitoba Volleyball Association, being one of its first Presidents, along with the development of the Manitoba Volleyball Officials Association. Through all his accomplishments and achievements he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, the Volleyball Manitoba Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Volleyball Canada Hall of Fame in 2000. He received the Queen Elizabeth 11 Silver jubilee medal in 1977 in recognition of his contributions to the community.
Volleyball Manitoba and the Winnipeg Men’s volleyball League have established the commemorative Wezer Bridle Cup-Manitoba Open in his honour. Funds raised from this tournament will go to the Wezer Bridle Volleyball Support Fund that provides assistance towards volleyball participation fees to young athletes with financial barriers
(Thanks to Volleyball Manitoba for much of this info)