Obviously, the national sport of Sri Lanka is cricket, right? Well, actually, it’s not. Try swapping the sound of leather on willow for that of hand on volleyball…
Yes, despite the fact that cricket is played everywhere, from beaches and backstreets to parks and school playgrounds, volleyball is officially the nation’s the No.1 pastime.
On a trip to visit family in Sri Lanka this summer, I decided to give it a go – but with the Rio Olympics and the Copacabana in mind, it had to be the beach version.
So we headed for Unawatuna, a coastal spot near the town of Galle, to play the with a couple of locals and some of my relatives.
Mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness were running through my mind as we made the bus trip from Hikkaduwa, but I was determined to have a fun time and enjoy a new sport.
Beach volleyball originated in Hawaii in 1915 but made its name in Santa Monica, California, in the 1920s.
The sport began to gain popularity and was played across Europe in the 1960s and finally made its way to Sri Lanka in the 1990s. It has been part of the Olympics since 1996.
The best achievement in beach volleyball by Sri Lankans came at the 2010 Asian championships in Lipanshui, China, where the pair of Mahesh Perera and Wasantha Rathnapala achieved a silver medal.
The sport is played in teams of two rather than the six in volleyball itself, and the scoring system is different too, with matches being played in the best of three sets to 21 points. In addition, 15 points for a deciding set.
Finding a spot
Once we arrived at Unawatuna, we made the short walk to the beautiful beach nearby. The heat was intense and it was only midday.
“Other guys playing were making suicidal dives and flips in the scorching heat to save or win a point”
There was certainly a touristy feel to the area as there were many restaurants serving western-style food, as well as hotels, and shops selling souvenirs.
Finding a spot to play volleyball was not that hard. There were a couple of nets that were free to use or you could bring your own.
I decided to get warm up, get used to the conditions and have a feel of the ball before we actually played.
There were other guys playing too, and they were making suicidal dives and flips in the scorching heat to save or win a point.
Time to play
It was time to play and I teamed up with my uncle to take on a couple of locals who were willing to play us.
I was made to serve in the first set – and put my first effort straight into the net. My uncle was laughing as he knew I never played the sport before.
“I managed to leap in the air and unleash a powerful forearm smash”
However, after that poor start, I managed a better serve and the rally was underway.
There were many challenges as the match was happening. A language barrier was one of them. The guys and my uncle were speaking Sinhalese and I didn’t really understand what they were saying, having only a few basic phrases myself.
So our main means of communication was my uncle pointing and showing me what to do and where to be. I began to pick up the pace and manage to get involved in a long rally of about 10-15 hits.
Running barefoot on the sand was hard too, as it was really hot and dry.
As the match continued, I managed to leap in the air and unleash a powerful forearm smash to earn a point. My uncle was laughing and the locals smiling at my joy.
That smash left my hand stinging in pain, but I shook it off and continued to play until about 3pm. I enjoyed every minute of it and would definitely play again.
Beach volleyball was a new experience for me and I would recommend anyone to give it a go. It’s a good way to be active, have fun with friends and family and a great chance to feel really competitive.