At first glance, it’s hard to tell what sport they're playing.
Two doubles teams face off barefoot on the sandy floor of a beach volleyball court, but the net is lower than it would be for volleyball and higher than it would be for traditional tennis. The players are holding rackets, but they look more like enormous Ping-Pong paddles — so it can’t be badminton.
And they’re whacking a tennis ball back and forth over the net — but the ball is partially deflated and not allowed to bounce before players volley it back over the net. Like tennis, the scoring goes 15, 30, 40, game.
This is beach tennis, a niche sport played primarily in the summer on Long Island. Two tournaments open to the public are scheduled for Aug. 24 and 25 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, and usually draw 50 to 60 adult players each day. Crest Hollow has four outdoor beach tennis courts that its members practice on every Tuesday night.
Tournaments are “like a carnival on the beach,” says player Nick Schneider, 30, a tennis teacher at Sportime Syosset, during a recent Tuesday night practice. Music blasts and a spirit of festivity prevails, he says.
“I like the atmosphere,” agrees Samantha Siegel, 26, of Hicksville, also a Sportime tennis coach. “Everyone’s always just hanging out. It’s not as serious as it would be at a tennis match.”
ABOUT THE SPORT
But don’t be fooled — playing beach tennis is “an amazing workout,” Schneider says. “It’s hard to run on the sand. It’s an acquired footwork.”
The speed of the ball returns doesn’t give players much time to react, says Alex Pop Moldovan, 38, of Glen Cove, a tennis coach at Glen Head Racquet Club. “It’s not easy to play if you don’t have a little bit of racket skills,” he says — that’s why many of the players are also tennis aficionados.
Beach tennis has been played on Long Island for at least 14 years; in 2005 Long Beach first hosted a U.S. Beach Tennis Open on Labor Day weekend. Activity has diminished there and Crest Hollow has emerged as a hub of beach tennis on Long Island, says David Sickmen, owner of New York Beach Tennis, which is organizing the tournaments.
The sport is more prevalent in states such as California and Florida with year-round beach weather. Sickmen and other competitors from Long Island have traveled to tournaments in those states. “When we travel to tournaments, you’re at the beach. Nice views, it’s nice to be by the ocean, to jump in the water after you play,” Sickmen says. The sport is also more popular in countries such as Italy and Aruba.
Last winter, Long Island players met once every two weeks at Endless Summer Volleyball in Oceanside, where they were able to modify beach volleyball courts to play beach tennis, Sickmen says. They hope to repeat the activity this coming winter, he says.
Kabir Rajpal, 17, of Woodbury, a rising senior at Syosset High School, and Ariez Elyaas, 25, who is from Malaysia but living in Syosset for the summer, tried the sport for the first time at Crest Hollow recently. The duo won one game and lost the other. “I really like it, the beach, the vibe, the volley, the reflexes,” Elyaas says. “Just being barefoot in the soft sand, it energizes you.”
New York Beach Tennis Tournaments
WHEN|WHERE Two separate men’s and women’s doubles tournaments beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 and Sunday, Aug. 25 at Crest Hollow Country Club, 8325 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury
FEE $35 per player