Digging Dinos

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1929

Some 66 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period, the king of the Earth’s beaches was a terrible reptile known as Tyrannosaurus rex. This legendary dinosaur is estimated to have been able to cover the sandy shores at speeds of up to 40 mph. However, its famously short arms would not have been biomechanically evolved enough to pass, set, or spike a volleyball, and a comet striking the Earth at the Gulf Coast of Mexico is thought to be responsible for the extinction of the T. rex and the rest of the dinosaurs on the planet.

Several years later, during a geologic period known as the 1990s, a new breed of dinosaurs took up the sport of beach volleyball. The beach game, being an activity of speed and agilitytwo things that dont come easily once you reach a certain decadepresented a unique challenge as these dinosaurs got up in years. Two dinos, Dave Chaikin and Marin Artukovich, started their own tournament in order to avoid being usurped by age, using a format that handicapped the advantages of youth. This tournament, dubbed the Hawaii Dinosaur Volleyball Tournament, was first played in 1995 on the Big Island of Hawaii. Each men’s team’s combined age is required to exceed 80 and each women’s team’s combined age must exceed 70. Additionally, teams receive a one-point starting advantage for each five years of seniority they hold over their opponents (up to a maximum of five points) and the oldest team has choice of side or serve. This transformation in tournament scoring and structure allowed the 90s kings of the beaches to stave off extinction for a few more years.

We just wanted to bring in some good players and some pro-type youngsters, said Chaikin. We wanted to be competitive with them. Plus it is a good time of year when people want to come to Hawaii.

This year’s iteration of the Dinosaur took place March 13-15, on Kalapaki Beach in Kauai. Over the years the tournament has seen other homes in Hawaii, including the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu.

My idea was to move [the tournament] around, Chaikin said, but Kauai is such a nice spot we are probably going to stay there.

The 21st edition of the tournament followed in the tradition of all its predecessors using old school rules: big court, games to 15, and side-out scoring.

When asked if they considered switching to align with adaptations made to the sport in 2001, Chaikin insisted, We never considered switching. It’s just an old school tournament.

Keeping the tournament old school means that competitors play for nothing more than a cool T-shirt and bragging rights. This year those bragging rights went to Kelly Drobeck and Lynne Galli on the women’s side and Greg Lyle and Jim Nichols for the men. The men’s champions bested a field of 40 other teams in the double-elimination tournament, while the women’s field consisted of 17 teams. Second and third place for the women went to the teams of Jeanne Vetter and Aurora Skarra-Gallagher and Annette Lynch and Monica Kessi, respectively. The men’s podium was rounded out by Todd Harrison and Mike Thornton claiming second and Kenny Lentin and Dan Neiman finishing in third.

I believe there were 16 teams the first year, said Chaikin. There were no women’s entries that year.

In addition to seeing over three and half times as many entrants as it did in the first year, this year’s tournament boasted some other exciting numbers. The field featured 17 current or former professional beach volleyball players, including Olympic gold medalist Eric Fonoimoana and Australian Olympian Annette Lynch (formerly Annette Huygens-Tholen). Three parent-child teams competed. The oldest team in the field held a combined age of 118 years, 10 months. The field ranged in age from 17 to 72, with about half of participants hailing from Hawaii and the other half making the journey in from the mainland, according to Chaikin.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the Dinosaur is the aloha spirit in which the tournament is held. The aloha spirit is an attitude of friendly acceptance for which the Hawaiian Islands are so famous. However, it also refers to a powerful way to resolve any problem, accomplish any goal, and to achieve any state of mind or body that you desire. In the Hawaiian language, aloha stands for much more than just hello or goodbye or love. Looking at the root words within aloha, some of which have multiple meanings, the deeper significance of the term becomes clear. It’s the joyful (oha) sharing (alo) of life energy (ha) in the present (alo).

In keeping with this theme, each year the Dinosaur recognizes two players who best exemplify sportsmanship and the aloha spirit on and off the court. This recognition comes in the form of the Longboardasauras award, an engraved wooden plaque with a mounted plastic dinosaur. This year’s recipients were women’s finalist Vetter and Joel Whitaker.

In addition to three days of on-court play, competitors and spectators at the Dinosaur are entertained by live music, luaus, and feasts, as well as free Longboard Island Lager provided by tournament sponsor Kona Brewing Company.

We have been sponsored since our second year, Chaikin said. The guy who started Kona Brewing Company was a player. It is our liquid aloha!

When asked if he had any memorable stories from the tournament’s 21-year history, Chaikin recalled when this year’s champion Jim Nichols entered his first event. He and his partner went out with two straight losses. Since then, Nichols has entered 10 events and has played in eight finals, winning the championship six times.

To me that is the greatest story of the whole event, said Chaikin.

Aside from the change in location, the Dinosaur tournament has seen very little evolution in its 21 years, and barring any unforeseen mass extinction event, tournament directors, organizers, players, and fans plan to carry on the tradition of the Hawaiian Dinosaur Tournament until their bones and joints become too fossilized for them to play.

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