The 64th annual men’s Laguna Open is Saturday and Sunday at the main beach in Laguna. It’s the world’s longest running, continuously held beach tournament. Last year’s event was won by Sean Rosenthal and Trevor Crabb.
Before there was the Manhattan Beach Open, before Huntington Beach became home to the world’s biggest event, before Hermosa became entrenched in beach volleyball lore, there was Laguna.
And before there was Sinjin Smith and Karch Kiraly, before Randy Stoklos and Tim Hovland, before Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh, there was Gene Selznick.
Mr. Volleyball, as he has come to be known.
He was a bit of a bombastic figure, Selznick. A man who, alongside his friend and partner, Bernie Holtzman, once convinced actress Greta Thyssen, the star of the Hollywood revue, Pajama Tops, to serve as the prize of sorts to the winners of a tournament in 1954.
The winners, who, of course, would wind up being Selznick and Holtzman, were to receive a kiss from Thyssen.
The smooch made the LA Times.
That was beach volleyball then –- wild, brash, a bit untamed.
Just the way Selznick, the most dominant player of his era, seemed to like it.
And much, justifiably and necessarily, has changed since. The Association of Volleyball Professionals was formed. Real referees now oversee matches. Players –- though some may see this as a regrettable growth of the game –- no longer order drinks from cocktail waitresses sauntering about the courts. There is a players association and rules and regulation and a bona fide business model, where players receive prize money rather than kisses from Hollywood’s latest star, though some may, depending on the allotted prize money, actually prefer the latter.
Some things change.
Some things don’t.
The Laguna Open, the event dominated by Selznick, who won the first seven events, remains steeped in tradition, a bastion of a bygone era. And for the 2018 Laguna Open and beyond, tournament director Kirk Morgan paid homage to Selznick: Two perpetual, eight-foot trophies named after Selznick, with the names of every tournament champion dating back to the tournament’s debut in 1955.
This is what Laguna does, preserving some of the finest elements of the game, including some of its most legendary names.
Where the majority of beach volleyball tournaments are crawling with advertising, signs donning the logos and benefits of the newest sunscreen, the latest supplement, the finest electrolyte water, the lightest beer, the smoothest coffee, the city of Laguna Beach has remained firm.
No advertising. Not on its beach, at least.
Which helps explain why the AVP hasn’t stopped at such an iconic beach as Laguna since 1988, something Morgan understands.
“The AVP has bills to pay,” he said, and Laguna’s stance on having no advertising on its beach –- though you will find plenty near the Pacific Coast Highway 10 steps beyond –- makes it supremely difficult for a tour to make any money on a stop there.
That, and Laguna’s limited real estate, with six available courts, makes it nearly impossible for an event the size of an AVP to be held in a single weekend.
But that’s also the point: Laguna, in keeping its event on its own beach, without advertising intruding on the games, without commercials extending timeouts, is perhaps the most authentic, organic beach volleyball tournament left in Southern California.
The intimate setting makes a crowd of 500 feel like a crowd of 5,000.
Who needs a stadium when you have the boardwalk?
It makes the fans feel that much closer to professional players such as Sean Rosenthal, Ed Ratledge, Ty Loomis, Eric Zaun, Ty Tramblie, Miles Evans, Billy Kolinske, Avery Drost, Chase Frishman, Mike Brunsting, all of whom have played as recently as last year, many of whom are signed up again this weekend.
Will there be cocktail waitresses offering drinks for players? No, not anymore. Just the same as the latest Hollywood stars – Jennifer Lawrence? Emma Watson? Gal Gadot? – will not be providing the winners with a kiss on main court.
But there is an $8,000 purse –- kudos of sponsors such as Skyloft, Aliso Viejo ClubSport, the city of Laguna Beach, Plastic Clothing, Jolyn Clothing, Drink Bai, among dozens of others –- the largest since the AVP hosted the Laguna Open in 1988.
Morgan has ambitions to build it to a $50,000 tournament.
For now, it’s still regarded as one of the must-play non-AVP stops of the year.
It’s been that way for 64 years.
Some things change. Sometimes, the best things don’t.
Just the way Laguna likes it.