It is a paradox of sorts: As beach volleyball continues to build its own communities all over the country, the sport’s enduring tournament circuit is hosting events featuring fewer teams.
Charo Soriano and Bea Tan explained the reverse phenomenon to the Inquirer recently: Organizers of the Beach Volleyball Republic now screen teams to ensure high-quality games.
It is a testament to the growth of the sport, a popularity spurt fueled by the passion of athletes who refused to believe that beach volleyball would forever be the little sister of it’s celebrity-packed indoor counterpart. Funny because Soriano and Tan could have just rode on the popularity of indoor volleyball and no one would have minded.
After all, Soriano and Tan rode the initial wave of volleyball’s rise to prominence.
“We saw how indoor volleyball grew into what it is now. We experienced first-hand when there was no one watching. Then in a span of two to three years, 20,000 people were watching,” said Tan, who won a UAAP championship with the Ateneo Lady Eagles in 2014.
“All of a sudden, people would be waiting for us outside the arena to get photos. As players, some were thinking, we did not sign up for this; we didn’t want to be celebrities. But on the other end, some of us were like, it’s my responsibility now because a lot of these young ones look up to us. They’re waiting for us to do something for them because they look up to us.”
It’s this sense of obligation that prompted Tan and Soriano, along with fellow former Ateneo players Dzi Gervacio, Fille Cainglet-Cayetano and Gretchen Ho, to help beach volleyball grow.
“We wanted to have a more regular beach volleyball circuit where we could continue to play in a high level,” said Soriano.
“Right now, we appreciate there’s a career for indoor volleyball,” said Tan. “But we thought of doing something similar for beach volleyball. It’s something we really wanted to grow in the Philippines because there’s so much potential. We have so many players in indoor volleyball who used to play beach volleyball.”
“There are a lot of players locally who are good in beach volleyball. Even some of the big names in indoor, they came from the provinces and played beach volleyball,” the 5-foot-8 Soriano added. “They transferred because of the lack of platform in beach volleyball. It’s only indoor that would offer scholarships, provide them an inkling of a career path. It wasn’t like that in beach volleyball.”
That lack of opportunity motivated the star Ateneans to form Beach Volleyball Republic (BVR) three years ago. Since then, sand battles have traveled all over the country in a bid to promote the sport and discover new talents.
“To be able to do it in many beaches in the Philippines, and come back to these places, that’s already one very good milestone for us,” said Tan. “We’re now on our third year, so we’re focusing more on building relationships in the places that we go to.”
Proof of BVR’s success is the inclusion of a men’s division in its tour. And a more important form of validation? BVR will host the Manila Open, which is part of the Beach Volleyball World Tour, where 64 teams from different countries will see action.
“It’s the first time the Philippines will host the [event],” Soriano said during a recent appearance at Sports IQ, the Inquirer’s live multiplatform sports talk show. “Already we have teams from Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Spain and Latvia that have registered.”
“It gives us a chance to gauge where we are internationally in the sport,” added Tan.
The Philippines, as host, will field three pairs each in the men’s and women’s divisions. And as organizers, BVR will field one wildcard duo in each division.
The group holds office in some of the most gorgeous shores in the country, but life isn’t always a beach for BVR.
“There are a lot of problems, but we call them challenges. It comes in different packages in every leg,” said Tan. “We would always have something. But I guess we got used to it already. You never know what’s going to happen when you go to certain places with all the logistics involved. You have to go fly a plane, ride a boat, go on long bus rides. Then there’s all this equipment and the players coming in, it’s still a challenge for us. But these challenges, we find it fun almost. It’s a problem solving kind of thing.”
“We grew very well in terms of solving these little setbacks—like somebody gets left behind by the plane or all our equipment get stuck in the cargo,” said Soriano. “A lot of adventures, a lot of things that will happen that will test us, but we always overcome.”
“If it’s too easy, why are we still doing it?” asked Tan. “That’s why now, whenever there’s a problem, we just find a solution. Eventually, it’s going to fall into place.”
And the BVR team thinks beach volleyball will find its place, too.
“What’s good about it is we started on the same page, so we know what our end goal is,” said Tan. “So in any dealings, in any experience or challenge that we face, we know that we’re looking at the same end goal.”
“We might take different routes, but it’s basically towards the same vision,” added Soriano. “I think we’re far from where we want to be, but we understand that we’re getting there already and making an impact in the beach volleyball community.”