Practitioners of the sport, which include enthusiasts from Serbia, Israel, Colombia, and Brazil, even name folks from San Diego, where a club promotes footvolley, as it is called.
“It’s such a spectacular thing. It’s hard, the way the players do, to keep the ball moving over the net without using your hands,” said Cesar Lima of Pacific Beach, who competed in the first professional tournament of its kind held in San Diego recently. The 5-foot-10-inch tall futevoleista, who was born in the United States but whose parents are Brazilian and who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, added, “It’s a show.”
Lima described the graceful movements of the athletes and the intricacies of the sport, which stipulate that servers must kick the ball from a tiny mound of sand they build up behind the back line just for that purpose.
As the native Baltimorean spoke, footvolley pairs in the tourney--including pro star Leah Morales from Northern California—received the ball off their chests and headed shots over the net as visitors to the beach area eyed the unusual sport from the bluff above the court site and from the sidelines down on the beach proper.
In a rare “home run” kind of technique, a footvolleyist would occasionally spike the ball in a “shark attack”: a bicycle-like kick taken from soccer to slam the ball over the net.
Tour announcer Mark Millan, a Colombian-American from Newport Beach fluent in the sport and the pronunciation of the international names of the players, narrated a mochila, or “backpack attack”--an attempt to head the ball just over an opposing player directly on the other side of the net so that it can’t be blocked or returned.
Dany Gaspar of Pacific Beach, another Brazilian entered in the National Footvolley Association (NFA) event on Frazee Beach in Carlsbad, is also a member of the local San Diego Footvolley Club, which practices at the sand volleyball courts at “The Pit,” in Mission Beach across from the Belmont Park roller coaster. Beginners are welcome. He showed off a hard cast on his left arm from a recent mishap. Other locals entered included Guilherme, of Point Loma, and Nunu.
Among the onlookers was Bebe, a towering 7-foot-tall former member of the NBA Toronto Raptors, presently a free agent, whose given name is Lucas Nogueira. The carioca (native of Rio) hung out with his fellow Brasileiros under a shady awning off one corner of the main court below Pine Avenue, looking relaxed and exchanging quips in Portuguese. Though the skies were still overcast in the late morning, Bebe’s presence seemed to add to the friendly and starry atmosphere, as footvolley players’ wives arrived and double kisses were exchanged.
Asked why not all soccer players can transition to futevolei, which originates from the beaches in Rio, Zuca Palladino, 37, head of the Houston footvolley club, responded, “It think the sport is completely counterintuitive from soccer. In soccer, you’re always protecting the ball, so you’re always stepping back (which he demonstrated). In volleyball, there is no contact, so you’re constantly attacking. The same in footvolley.”
Zuca, an ardent and articulate ambassador for the quirky sport, grew up living in Brazil and two years in Monterrey, Mexico (adding another language), then as a student in the U.S. playing soccer on an athletic scholarship at Notre Dame College in New Hampshire (which has since closed). He took up his new sport six years ago after rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee.