Destinations: “Sportcations,” Beach Volleyball Style

AVP center court action in Manhattan Beach, CA, 2009. Photo by Andy Gordon.

Looking for a fun, active, sports-themed vacation? Then consider the new breed of active trips known as “sportcations.” How about a long weekend of soaking up California’s sun, sand, and beautiful views, paired with watching the best of professional beach volleyball? Or if watching isn’t close to being enough activity for you, what about taking a trip to paradise to get into the action yourself and take on the pros at their own games?

If those sound like a perfect way to get your hardbody holiday fix, jump in your car or hop a plane to SoCal to catch the pros at work, or fly off to the Caribbean, and do an all-inclusive, weeklong vacation where you will learn from (and actually play with) the top volleyball pros. The weekend events take place throughout the summer in SoCal, with the most recent one happening on July 16-19 at the AVP Crocs Slam Manhattan Beach Open presented by Bud Light in Manhattan Beach, CA; the Hermosa Beach Open coming August 6-9; and the Caribbean adventures scheduled for November in gorgeous Turks and Caicos.

The AVP events in Southern California offer an opportunity to experience a pro sport that is an unusual value, since admission to the 4-day events is free because of the South Bay’s strict beach-is-free policies. Plus, fans get to witness amazing professional beach volleyball action at two of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Manhattan and Hermosa beaches, the places considered by most to be the birthplace – and the Mecca – for that popular summer sport.

Eventual winners Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs play on the outer courts at the Manhattan Beach AVP Open.Eventual winners Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs play on the outer courts at the Manhattan Beach AVP Open.

Best of all, the South Bay area of Los Angeles, which includes Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach, is a terrific place to enjoy a long summer weekend once the match-filled tournament days come to an end. Hotels and restaurants in the area offer a full spectrum of parties and special events surrounding the AVP tournament, so there’s fun to be had all night long, and you might just spot a pro player (especially ones that have been knocked out of the tourney) wandering by, too.

For a luxurious stay (and good value, too) in posh Manhattan Beach try the Shade Hotel, a boutique hotel just blocks up from the beach and pier. It’s where the beautiful people stay, and gather on the rooftop patio to party (www.shadehotel.com). Rooms start at $295 per night during the summer months.

The rooftop of the Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach.The rooftop of the Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach.

The Courtyard Marriott, which during the recent Manhattan Beach tournament hosted an AVP Dinner of Champions that raised money for the charity Dig For Kids (www.digforkids.org), is a large, upscale hotel a few miles from the beach on the El Segundo/Manhattan Beach border (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/laxmn-manhattan-beach-marriott). In the same area is the Hyatt Summerfield Suites (www.hyattsummerfieldsuiteselsegundo.com), one of the sponsors for the annual AVP event, which also offers spacious accommodations.

Those hotels are also good jumping-off points for the Hermosa Beach AVP, too, the other big annual pro beach volleyball event in the area. And if that’s your weekend destination for fun in the sun, be sure to check out the Beach House Hotel Hermosa Beach (www.beach-house.com) for rooms so close to the sand and the tournament venue that you will be able to watch the action from your window.

The perfect view from the Beach House Hotel in Hermosa Beach.The perfect view from the Beach House Hotel in Hermosa Beach.

The downtown nightclub and restaurant scene on Pier Avenue in Hermosa will surely be hopping during that long weekend of pro fun in August, too. Check out the famed Comedy & Magic Club (www.comedyandmagicclub.com), where Jay Leno is doing a Sunday night show all summer long, and other familiar comedians perform most nights. Then walk over to the Ragin’ Cajun (www.ragincajun.com) for great New Orleans-style eats. Brix@ 1601 (www.brix1601.com), Union Cattle (www.unioncattlecompany.com), and Sainte Rocke (www.saintrocke.com/) are hot new restaurants in Hermosa, too. For the best that Manhattan Beach has to offer, make sure Café Pierre is on your must-do eating list, and stop in to Rock ‘n Fish as you head north from the pier. Make time to head south to Redondo Beach as well, where Ortega 120 serves up 120 premium tequilas and really wonderful (and authentic) Mexican fare to match (www.ortega120.com).

Ortega 120, Redondo Beach's exemplary Mexican eatery boasting 120 premium tequilas.Ortega 120, Redondo Beach's exemplary Mexican eatery boasting 120 premium tequilas.

Making the AVP (www.avp.com) the kingpin of your South Bay vacation offers you a unique experience for seeing professional athletes compete in their exciting sport up close and personal. Every AVP event is set up with one large stadium court and multiple outer courts, with all the action going on simultaneously. As we said, most of the seating is free in SoCal (the AVP charges admission at their other events around the country), but if you want to guarantee courtside seats inside the stadium for the playoffs and the finals, the AVP has reasonably priced ticket packages ($70 for all four days) for that privilege. Otherwise, get there early and stay late.

From Thursday to Sunday, you can place a beach chair or towel next to the outer courts and cheer for your favorite players. The long weekend at the Manhattan Beach tournament featured great matches with fans of all ages crowding the beach, culminating in wins for Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal on the men’s side and Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs on the women’s. And if you think about it, no other pro sport allows such close interaction between the athletes and fans.

Beijing Olympic Gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser failed to dominate the Manhattan Beach AVP.Beijing Olympic Gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser failed to dominate the Manhattan Beach AVP.

If you want to get into the game yourself while on vacation in SoCal, the AVP offers clinics for kids and adults; there is a Juniors Camp offered for $349 just prior to the Hermosa Open (https://secure1.webconnex.com/AVPCamp_ManhattanBeach2). And for adults, especially if cost is no object, the AVP Ultimate VIP Fan Experience ticket package ($250 per person) includes a private clinic taught by some of the pros playing in the event, exclusive access to parties, a hospitality suite, and other goodies (https://secure1.webconnex.com/avpVIP). That is also happening at the Hermosa AVP coming up.

Legendary pro Albert Hannemann (known as “Al-B” to virtually everyone, www.alhannemann.com) runs the clinics. Among the many great athletes on tour, Al-B is the oldest at 39, an achievement about which he has mixed feelings. He is proud of the 17 years he has played professionally, but realizes that it will have to end sometime soon. Al-B is confident that he can still contend for a title, and he plans to keep playing as long as he is healthy and believes that he is competitive. Having seen him compete at the Manhattan Beach AVP, it looks like he can still keep up with the young guns for a while longer.

Albert, "Al-B," Hannemann, pro beach volleyball player, coach, philanthropist, and tourism entrepreneur.Albert, "Al-B," Hannemann, pro beach volleyball player, coach, philanthropist, and tourism entrepreneur.

But the sad reality for all professional athletes is that their careers must end while they are still relatively young adults. Al-B has made sure that he will stay busy after retiring from the tour and can still call the beach his office, by developing outside business interests. In 2000, he and his cousin Eric Fonoimoana, the 2000 Olympic Gold medalist in beach volleyball (who has since retired from the AVP), founded Dig For Kids. The non-profit organization raises money that helps children in disadvantaged communities, combining after-school academic tutoring and mentoring with exercise and volleyball lessons.

Al-B also has been working on expanding the Volleyball Vacations destination business (www.volleyballvacations.com) that he started 15 years ago. Volleyball Vacations is conceptually similar to fantasy baseball camps, designed for adults that want an opportunity to learn from (and play with) some of the finest beach volleyball professionals in the world. On top of that, the trips are held at beautiful, exotic tropical destinations with all-inclusive benefits.

Windsurfing on a Volleyball Vacations "sportcation" in the Turks and Caicos.Windsurfing on a Volleyball Vacations "sportcation" in the Turks and Caicos.

Hannemann’s next scheduled “sportcations” are November 7-14 and November 14-21, both held at the Club Med Turks & Caicos Islands in the Caribbean. Launching in conjunction with all the volleyball on the trips this year is the “Gobeachfest,” an Al-B invention to add even more fun to the trips (www.gobeachfest.com). The “Gobeachfest” concept offers the group of volleyball vacationers the chance to learn about other sports from professional athletes in disciplines like soccer, kiteboarding, martial arts, pilates, and tennis.

Volleyball Vacations' happy travelers, after a week of sun, fun, and beach volleyball in paradise.Volleyball Vacations' happy travelers, after a week of sun, fun, and beach volleyball in paradise.

So if combining a holiday break with exercise and sports action is your own personal fantasy getaway, then an AVP beach volleyball trip is probably the perfect fit for your next active vacation. And if watching the pros play while soaking up the SoCal summer sun does not satisfy your need for a more physical interaction with the pros, then put one of the Volleyball Vacations’ weeklong events in the Caribbean in November on your must-do calendar. Either way, you are sure to have a great time.

[Andy J. Gordon, a Los Angeles based marketing and strategy consultant, made his writing debut in Brentwood Magazine. His interests include music, sports, consumer electronics, premium libations, fine dining, travel, fast cars, and enjoying life. Jenny Peters is the editor and webmaster of www.JetSetJen.com ]

Manhattan Beach AVP photos by Andy Gordon.

Hotel and restaurant photos courtesy the specific property.

Volleyball Vacations photos courtesy Albert Hannemann.