New York Times
Kirk Condyles for the New York Times
AS if he were about to propose, Brian Hahs, an accountant from
Wantagh, 35, dropped to one knee on the sand. Carolyn Barton, 36,
an audiologist from Wantagh, watched Mr. Hahs stretch out his arms
and clasp his hands together. But this is only partly a tale of
love on the beach. What made Ms. Barton smile was the wallop Mr.
Hahs then gave the volleyball as it arced toward him over the net.
''Really nice,'' Ms. Barton, Mr. Hahs's fiancée, yelled
as the rally on court 8 at the beach volleyball stadium at Jones
Beach State Park continued and then ended with a spike point for
their free agent team. The six players on their side of the net
rotated clockwise, sand sifting between their toes.
As the sun dipped on the horizon, it was Ms. Barton's turn to
serve. On the first try, it sailed into the net. ''Nice try, dear,''
Mr. Hahs called out. Then, with a bit more oomph, the volleyball
whooshed to the other side. Mr. Hahs cast Ms. Barton a loving glance.
''It's almost like going on vacation playing on the beach,'' Mr.
Hahs had said earlier, standing on the sideline. ''It's like another
world to get away from my desk, my clients.''
Lured by the surf, the sand, summer, the competition and the cavorting,
beach volleyball is booming in popularity on the Island. Four evenings
a week since mid-May, 64 teams in the Long Island Volleyball Association,
a private league, are playing three games of 21 points each at Jones
Beach, competing against different teams each week. In this sandbox
for grown-ups, some jiggle between shots to music cranking from
loudspeakers. Others check out the social scene, clamoring for mates
as well as points.
Just down the shore at Cedar Beach in Babylon, hundreds of players
gather on 22 courts, where, on Monday evenings, a disc jockey adds
to the beach party atmosphere. The league there is divided into
recreational, intermediate and advanced. ''You don't have to be
the greatest volleyball player in the world to play,'' said Joseph
Strining, the executive director of the league.
Mr. Strining, 39, of Oak Beach was living in Long Beach in 1998
and working as a copy editor when he decided to organize an adult
recreational league rather than rely on pickup games with his buddies.
That first summer, he organized 28 teams at Cedar Beach. The following
year, he leased the former roller-skating rink from the New York
State park system at Jones Beach. The concrete was replaced with
sand. With lights for night play already in place, the volleyball
games could continue on warm summer evenings long after the sun
went down. He set up six courts.
''We want to make them feel like they are playing volleyball on
a cruise ship,'' said Mr. Strining, who now has a staff of 12 to
help keep the games running smoothly. ''It's huge stress relief.''
Last year, the roster swelled to 650 teams during two nine-week
sessions at both beaches. This summer, with two courts added at
Jones Beach, the league has close to 800 teams.
''It's a very social sport,'' Mr. Strining said, recalling how
he first noticed the woman who later became his fiancée,
Tracy Longo of Seaford, because she was so bubbly on the court.
''It's one of the few sports where men and women can actually play
together and enjoy the game together.'' Players range from 18 to
their 50's, with an average age of 27.
Though the league boasted its first wedding last June -- Kathy
and Curtis Lee of Hicksville even had a wedding cake topper made
with beach sand, a homemade volleyball net and ball for their wedding
at Larkfield Manor in Northport -- the emphasis is on sport, not
hooking up. Volleyball on the sand is a workout. Standings are kept,
with an additional point going to a team for each victory.
''Come playoff time, everyone is serious,'' Mr. Strining said.
''They progress. They become better players.''
But even those not looking for love can be as concerned with socializing
as winning. Several teams are sponsored by local companies like
NBTY (formerly Nature's Bounty) and Arrow Electronics; others are
groups of friends or free agents.
Members of a team called Lost in Space have been playing together
at Jones Beach for the last three summers. After winning all three
games during the first of four time slots on a recent evening, they
hung around the sidelines, swapping stories and sipping drinks from
a cooler. ''It's an excuse to get together after work and come to
the beach,'' said Ed Hearn, an engineer from Commack, who plays
alongside his wife, Linda, a dental hygienist. ''You don't get to
see everybody all the time. This was convenient.''
Gail Mazzella, 34, of Huntington picked up her husband, Mario,
37, at the Hicksville station from his job as an information technology
director in Manhattan to join their friends on the sand. Even after
a bad day at the office, it was worth the trek. ''By the time I
get here, I am in such a different mood,'' said Ms. Mazzella, who
works as an information technology director in Hauppauge. ''It's
a good time.''
For the last four years, Mike Wagner, 48, of Ronkonkoma has considered
volleyball a relaxing break after putting in a full day as a real
estate broker in Bellmore. ''I'm not a baker,'' Mr. Wagner said.
''To be on the beach I have to be able to do something or I can't
go. This is ideal.''
Like many players, after the game Mr. Hahs and Ms. Barton stroll
the boardwalk, go to the beach and sometimes stop for ice cream.
Though they didn't meet on the court, playing beach volleyball together,
they agreed, helped nurture their relationship. ''We got to know
each other and got to see each other in this kind of nature and
realized that we are the same,'' Ms. Barton said.
Because of the surge in popularity, Mr. Strining said, he plans
to take his volleyball league indoors next winter to a central Long
Island location, where he plans to create a beach with a roof on
Melody Millando, 28, a doctoral student in clinical psychology
from Bethpage, plays volleyball year round but prefers the sand.
''There is more freedom to go after the ball,'' Ms. Millando said.
''Here we can attack the ball, go after the ball. You can dive without
worrying about scraping the knees. I have more injuries indoors
On hot summer days, Theresa Bevilacqua, 23, a student from Farmingdale,
and buddies from her high school days bask in the sun at Jones Beach.
Come evening, the team that calls itself X-treme puts on T-shirts
marked ''A Volleyball Life. (Nothing else matters.)'' and head for
the sand courts. Then the spiking and passing in their intermediate-level
volleyball league begins.
Ms. Bevilacqua summed up the scene. ''I've always liked volleyball,''
she said. ''It's a great ending to a good day at the beach.'' ¦