Shelly Leuenberger temporarily left her love of playing beach volleyball behind when she moved with her family from California to Colorado.
However, the Parker resident is playing volleyball again in the sand in landlocked Colorado after finding The Island, a beach volleyball facility in southeast Denver.
“There’s no beaches here,” said Leuenberger. “I’m from Hermosa Beach where beach volleyball is major league. I used to play at the beach all the time.
“When I moved here 3 1/2 years ago, I gave up the sport and then I found this place. It’s is a little bit different than at the beach but it makes me feel good that I’m back into it.”
Beach volleyball is booming around the Denver area, with sand courts at bars, clubs and parks.
The Island, 2233 S.Geneva St., has six indoor sand courts, two outside and plans are to add six more outdoor courts.
Tom Davenport is the owner and he also owns The Oasis at 2400 W. Midway Blvd. in Broomfield. The Oasis has seven indoor and three outdoor beach volleyball courts.
There are leagues at both locations with six-on-six competition, four-on-four and the popular two-on-two doubles that is seen on television and at the Olympics.
There is no ocean, sea or bay around the sand courts in Colorado and players don’t have to worry about elements like the wind off the shore.
“What is different than an actual beach is the sand is fluffier and deeper,” said Leuenberger. “The sand is more shallow here and that’s the only difference.”
Sand in Colorado is sometimes called “jumpers sand” because the sand on the genuine beaches is deeper, which makes in harder to jump.
The popularity of beach volleyball is at least partially because of the inclusivity of the sport.
“I found is it is a game that lends itself to coed participation,” said Davenport. “You can play with men and women on a court. It’s a relatively level playing field.”
And all players are involved.
“It has a high degree of immediate gratification,” Davenport said. “Every time the ball comes over the net, especially in doubles beach volleyball, you get to touch it, you get to pass it, set it or hit it. Every point, every play, you are involved.
“In golf, you get to hit the ball 100 times around the golf course and you can be either a hero or goat. Volleyball has that same addiction component because of the gratification.”
There are some unwritten rules involved the culture at The Island. For instance, a guy never blocks a lady.
“There is a volleyball etiquette you have to know here because some people don’t follow it and they don’t last long,” said Adam Wiedel, of Castle Rock. “People start getting on their cases.”
Wiedel lists several reasons people keep playing beach volleyball.
“Some people like the competitiveness and some like the sport, some people like the accomplishment, some like to have the beer and some like to have good friends,” he said. “It is whatever drives them to have fun that keeps them coming back.”
Gina Engbarth of Centennial plays 20 hours a week.
“It is not surprising anymore to play beach volleyball in Colorado,” she said. “Tom (Davenport) has done so much for beach volleyball in Denver.
“You can play year round. I don’t know how much more it can grow because there are so many people involved in the sport but, yeah, I think it will continue to grow here in Colorado and across the U.S.”
Kris Bredehoft of Englewood is a player and coach.
“The sport is definitely big here,” she said. “Girls are solely going for beach scholarships now, where they used to go for hard court. There are a lot of the same principles but it is a hard transition from hard court to beach.
“In hard court, players specialize in a position. In beach, you play every position. It makes you more versatile.”
Women’s beach volleyball is recognized as an emerging sport by the NCAA with 93 schools, including 54 in Division I, having varsity teams.
Colorado Mesa, a Division II school in Grand Junction, is the only college in Colorado to have a team but several other schools are considering adding the sport.
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