Tropical Storm Hilary brought winds and rain to Southern California on Sunday, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of fans who came to watch the final — albeit rain-soaked and earlier then usual — action of the Association of Volleyball Professionals’ Manhattan Beach Open.
“The Manhattan Beach Open is like the Super Bowl of volleyball. It’s the biggest one,” said Bob Watters, an Anaheim resident who has been attending the tournament for the last 40 years.
Emily and Whitney Williams watch Hailey Harward, their church youth leader, play in the women’s semifinals at the AVP Gold Series Manhattan Beach Open on Sunday, August 20, 2023. (Photo by Axel Koester, Contributing Photographer)
The bleachers at the Manhattan Beach Pier were nearly filled as hundreds of fans, wearing plastic ponchos and huddling under umbrellas, braved the historic weather to watch some of the best players in beach volleyball compete in the annual AVP tournament.
With heavy rain pelting the bleachers, most of the attendees were drenched when the women’s finals, the last match, started around 11 a.m. However, the downpour didn’t dim the enthusiasm of fans, who cheered enthusiastically as the wins notched up.
Rob Christie from Manhattan Beach was one of them.
“It started out kind of nice, and it was just a little misty, and we stuck it out through the whole thing,” he said. “And at the end, that match, it was dumping, and I felt bad for the girls on the court, but boy, they fought hard, and they deserve to win.”
Christie, who has been coming to the tournament for 20 years, said it is “the Wimbledon of beach volleyball,” and that he was “so happy” to be attending even in the rain.
Christie said the sport holds a special place in the hearts of those from Manhattan Beach.
“The courts are here provided for everybody’s enjoyment. So it’s nice that the city does that,” he said. “And it’s good exercise, it’s the best thing you can do with your day (it) is to get out in the sunshine, exercise, and have fun with your friends, play volleyball.”
Al Lau, CEO of AVP, said the turnout at the tournament, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, demonstrates the sport’s huge fan base in Manhattan Beach.
“For most places, if you had this much weather, you wouldn’t have full stands,” he said. “And yet the crowd was here, and they were here early in the morning, because we started early.”
The tournament was originally scheduled to last until 3 p.m. Sunday, but AVP officials adjusted the schedule so that the competition ended shortly before noon.
It also started early at 7 a.m., instead of 8 a.m., due to the fast-approaching Tropical Storm Hilary, which made landfall over the northern Baja California peninsula in Mexico earlier Sunday morning and was racing toward Southern California as the event concluded, according to the National Weather Service.
So at the end, the men and women’s finals, the final stretch of the tournament, started around 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively.
Lau said the tournament received the go-ahead from local authorities, emphasizing that his team’s emphasis was on the safety of fans and participants.
There were conversations regarding backup plans, such as moving the finals to another day, should the weather conditions become too dangerous, he added.
“If it got to the point that we needed to stop play, we would obviously stop play for safety, and then we would have had different contingencies in terms of how to find a winner,” Lau said.
According to Lau, traditionally, athletes in beach volleyball continue to play as long as there’s no lightning and no extreme wind, said Lau, noting that the women’s gold medal beach volleyball match during the 2008 Beijing Olympics was held in the rain.
“Even with the weather challenges, everyone was committed, AVP, the city, and the players, to crown a winner,” he said. “And we were fortunate that we were able to get it and everyone’s super happy because, again, it’s one of the biggest events in the world.”
As the morning advanced and the winds strengthened, palm trees around the volleyball court swayed. The pounding rain caused puddles of water to form on the streets and on the beach.
When the tournament ended around noon, fans had to splash through puddles of water to get to their cars.
But for Kaylee McClure and Sheradyn Laughridge, who traveled from Atlanta to California to watch the game, the wet weather was nothing new.
“We’re used to rain from Georgia,” McClure said. “So this is pretty normal for us. We don’t know any difference.”
She added: “Our flight leaves today, so we are hoping it doesn’t get canceled.”