In sports, there are revered events, so big and important that they eclipse the actual game.
There’s the World Cup, the Super Bowl, The Masters and Wimbledon. And in the sport of beach volleyball, there is Manhattan.
Or, more accurately, the Manhattan Open.
Held each August in Manhattan Beach, California – the 2023 event dates were Aug. 19-20 (played in the rain for the first time in its history thanks to Tropical Storm Hillary)– it is the “King of the Beach” when it comes to tournaments and is known among the players and long-time observers as the Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball.
There is a reason for that nickname, for just like the famous tennis tournament is the most respected tournament in the sport. Traditionally held in mid-August – the 2019 event is Aug. 16-18 on the south side of the pier – it is the one all the players want to win and in fact, must win in order to validate themselves to the beach volleyball community.
“If you haven’t won Manhattan, you haven’t won anything,” is a popular phrase among the players.
What other tournament begins with the unveiling of plaques of the previous year’s winner, adding to a Walk of Fame of winners similar to the celebrity stars in Hollywood?
The reason for this is simple: the Manhattan Open is the original big-time beach volleyball tournament, played in the city where the sport was created more than 50 years ago. The legend of the Manhattan Open was created from its very first serve when the inaugural tournament was so hotly contested the final match was played in near darkness.
Rather than allow organizers to suspend play until the next day, fans ran up to the adjacent parking lot to turn on their car lights so it could be finished that night.
The hard-working winners won not a trophy or prize money but dinner at a local restaurant.
That’s not the case today, as it is part of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) national tour. And while on a worldwide stage the FIVB is bigger as it employs the Olympic style format of countries vs. countries rather than teams vs. teams and serves as an Olympics qualifier, no tournament is more important than the Manhattan Open.
Plus, it’s in Southern California, with the beach life, California girls in bikinis and boys in board shorts. Part of the reason the Manhattan Open is the Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball is because of this scene.