24.06.2019 - Hamburg
As 10,000 voices chanted and the music of the DJ blasted, there was a private, poignant moment during the 2017 Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna that was too much for Clemens Doppler. “Let’s just say I was happy that I was wearing sunglasses,” he smiles.
Yet the tears that quietly dropped into the sanctuary of his sunglasses were not because Clemens was sad. Nor were they of joy or pain. They came flooding as he waited patiently, like a gladiator, to enter the Red Bull Beach Arena, where a capacity crowd were waiting to greet him and teammate Alex Horst ahead of a vital quarterfinal clash.
“I heard the voices of the announcers,” recalls Clemens. “I heard the music, some of my favorite songs. I could hear the people in the crowd. Everything together made it such an emotional moment that tears came out.”
Bouncing from the corner of the quivering stadium, and visible to the rest of the crowd, brothers Tobi and Flo Rudig (aka DJ Tobi and MC Flo) and Michael Staribacher (aka DJ Stari) had the fans in the palm of their hands; the power was at their fingertips. The cauldron-like atmosphere had reached fever pitch before a ball had been served. No wonder Clemens could feel his heart racing as he stood waiting.
“The feeling in the tunnel waiting to come on the Center Court… I get goosebumps still thinking about it.”
The rhythm of the beach
Meanwhile, the words “Vienna, put your hands together” raced around the four corners of the stadium as the audience clapped in unison to the infectious beat. The boys in the DJ booth were doing what they do best. Together they have become a key part of the beach volleyball soundscape. The Rudig brothers were hit with the idea to accompany music between the points at events in Klagenfurt over 20 years ago and it’s stuck. “We felt the crowd should recognize what’s happening on the sand and why it is so special,” says Flo. “We want people to enjoy the moments.” They are pioneers of the sport’s entertainment, the original producers of beach volleyball theatre, the ultimate cheerleaders to the stars, supplying soundtracks to endless beach volleyball summers.
“We are the missing link between the players and the fans,” continues DJ Stari, whose encyclopedic knowledge of players’ favorite songs is vast and impressive. “Beach volleyball is a party in the stand that is connected with the game on the court.”
Following the tears before that quarterfinal came joy and more spine-tingling moments on the sand and in the stands for Clemens and Alex. The Austrians would win again to secure a place in the final. Victories were celebrated as if Austria had won the Soccer World Cup. But no, this is beach volleyball and this is where goosebumps don’t lie.
Despite the backing of 10,000 Austrian voices, Team Doppler/Horst could not capture the gold medal that they and their loyal supporters craved. In the final they were beaten by two unassuming Brazilians, including one 22-year-old, who wrote his own name into the record books by becoming the youngest World Champion in beach volleyball history.
Play it loud
It was André Loyola Stein’s first experience of a World Championships. He had, of course, seen his heroes play – and win – these tournaments before, while watching on television back home in Vila Velha. Now it was his turn.
But amid the noise and fervor, André and his partner – the ace-serving, 6ft 7in giant Evandro Gonçalves Oliveira Junior – did not have DJ Stari and co. playing any of their favorite songs. Instead they had to shout to one another to get across their all-important on-court strategies. Eventually, however, they would overcome not just the volume of the Austrian fans, but their opponents too.
“The fans were euphoric and very noisy to start the match to a point where we could barely communicate with each other, I was a little scared to be honest,” admits André, now 24, and who will aim to defend his world title in Hamburg with a new partner, George Wanderely. “I can’t tell when they started to actually cool down, but I remember the noise not being as loud as in the beginning during the second set.
“Beforehand I was both nervous and excited when I entered the court. We were a little too nervous at the start, but after a few points I managed to focus on what was happening in the court and to forget the stands.”
This is what beach volleyball is famous for, it’s why it sells-out stadiums around the world faster than any other Olympic sport. This year’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships presented by comdirect and ALDI Nord will take place inside Hamburg’s iconic tennis arena, Am Rothenbaum. Here there will be no such thing as ‘quiet please’.
“Nobody says that in this sport,” says DJ Stari, grinning. “We encourage the noise.”
The soundtrack for success
But is this razzamatazz a help or a hindrance to the players, when their main focus is winning points and tournaments, especially when their livelihoods depend so importantly on their performance?
For the majority of the beach elite, they have become aware that being a beach volleyball professional is more than just turning up and playing ball for 40 minutes. They are athletes playing in the arena of the entertainment business.
“The music and the DJs bring an entertainment value to the fans that are watching – and to the athletes who are playing,” says Canadian Melissa Humana-Paredes, who with teammate Sarah Pavan will aim to finish in the medals in Hamburg after finishing fourth in Vienna two years ago. “Yes we’re out there playing, but we’re also there to entertain and it makes it so much easier when you have the DJs out there helping you with their cheers, dancing and music.
“We’re not distracted, it’s not a distraction; it enhances the sport. We’re there to win and to play, but it’s nice to have that time in between each rally to breath and take it all in. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what’s going on… the DJs do such a good job of bringing those moments back so we and the fans are able to really take in what’s happening.”
Okay, so Phil ‘The Thin Beast’ Dalhausser, one of beach volleyball’s all-time greats, who won the world title in 2007, might put the “horse blinkers on” when it comes to ignoring the hubbub of the crowd, but for Germany’s Chantal Laboureur it couldn’t be more different.
“Of course you feel it when the crowd are freaking out,” says the 29-year-old, who is an expert when it comes to perfecting the ‘beach moves’ – hand actions made by the crowd that accompany beach volleyball skills including aces, spikes and blocks. “I also like to watch it. I get goosebumps when you see the whole crowd doing a move and cheering for the athletes.”
And as Clemens Doppler can testify, the spirit and support of a crowd can also play a crucial role, especially when you feel you’ve given it your all and there’s nothing more left in the tank.
It’s the same for Anouk Vergé-Dépré. “It works as motivation,” says the 27-year-old Swiss star. “In difficult moments you feel this energy of the crowd. When you’re exhausted the crowd can pick you up and push you to your limits and I think that’s really nice.”
Being exposed to the party atmosphere in front of huge crowds also helps those players who are taking their very first steps in their beach careers, acting as an early test of nerve for beach volleyball’s rising stars.
In Vienna two years ago, Duda – full name Eduarda Santos Lisboa – was just 18 when the tournament began.
“I was nervous in every single match because I had never played in front of so many people,” explains Duda, a precocious talent, and a player many experts predict could become the youngest world champion in Hamburg later this month. “I know that the next time I face a situation like that I’ll know how to behave because I’ve been there before. Being there and going through all those experiences was very important to me.”
Feel like a rock star
This is how special the beach volleyball family has become. In which other sports do athletes get to hear their wedding song mid-match? The familiar chimes of Hans Zimmer’s True Romance can be heard whenever three-time World champion Kerri Walsh Jennings takes to the sand. It holds a cherished place in Kerri’s heart. It was the record played when she tied the knot with husband Casey.
These are the emotions and connections which make beach volleyball so loved between players and fans – and everyone has a part to play. It’s why Clemens Doppler, when he hears his favorite Guns n Roses track Paradise City, feels like a rock star when he puffs out his chest, exhales, and prepares himself to step out into his theatre of dreams – and it will be no different in Hamburg.
“Playing in front of that audience, I always compare it with rock stars,” Doppler says, wide-eyed. “Now I feel what it’s like for Axl Rose when he’s behind the curtain, about to come onto stage. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than when we came out in Vienna with all the fans, screaming with their positive vibes. It was so special. A fairytale. And that’s beach volleyball.”
You just have to see it and be a part of it to believe it.
Quiet please? Not here, thanks. Turn it up.