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Source: The San Diego Union Tribune

SAN DIEGO – The concept is simple: Kick a soccer ball around on the beach.

But Chris Lemay, a veteran San Diego soccer coach, and his brother Scott have much bigger dreams for what is often described as the world's most popular sport.

Yesterday, they teamed with the VAVi Sport & Social Club of San Diego to stage a tournament for 40 youth and adult teams that drew an estimated 1,000 people at Mariner's Point in Mission Bay Park. It was the Lemays' fourth sand tournament in San Diego and a showcase for the kind of event they are taking nationwide.

“The kids have so many opportunities to play on grass but this tends to be . . . less formal. . . . It's a little bit less about who wins and loses,” said Chris Lemay, owner of Soccer in the Sand.

He figures it's the perfect way to spend a weekend: Players love the novelty of competing on sand and parents feel more like they are on vacation than at one of the numerous high-intensity tournaments around the region each year.

The Lemays aren't the only ones discovering sand soccer. In May, the Southern California Beach Soccer Championships – operated by a different organization – drew a reported 10,000 people in Oceanside. The international governing body for soccer, known as FIFA, recently held its Beach Soccer World Cup in France.

Wherever the venue, the sport is rapidly gaining fans such as Darrell Johnson, a volunteer with the American Youth Soccer Organization in Lakeside.

“It's a fun environment for the kids,” Johnson said. “They get away from the true competitiveness of the sport. You get to have fun for a day. If you lose, you can go swimming in the bay.”

Tammie Hoxsie, a Lakeside parent, brought several relatives to yesterday's tournament for a potluck and barbecue. As for the children, Hoxsie said, “when they are not playing soccer, they are building sand castles.”

Hoxsie wasn't the only one who packed a picnic. By midmorning, the fields were lined with sun shades, and the smell of grilling meat wafted across the sand.

Another sign of the laid-back atmosphere is that many of the youth teams left their regular uniforms at home and adopted more casual attire, such as matching tank-tops.

Sarah Trissel, 10, of Carmel Valley and her teammate Ari Leese, 10, of Vista wore tie-dyed shirts for their games. They also sported booties designed to protect players' feet.

“They are really good because when you kick (the ball) it doesn't hurt,” Sarah said.

She enjoys playing on sand because the five-on-five matches mean she gets to touch the ball more times than during league contests, where there are 11 players per side.

Ari couldn't precisely explain her attraction to beach soccer.

“I dunno,” she said. “You get to get pushed down in the sand.”

VAVi offers different attractions for the young adults – the competition and the nearby beer garden.

“Sand soccer has obviously got a good little buzz to it – it's a bit different than regular soccer,” said Keith Cunningham, marketing director for the club in San Diego.

Cunningham said the adult brackets sold out, and he had little doubt about the club's participation in future tournaments.

“We are going to be doing it on an annual basis from here on out,” Cunningham said.

That's just the kind of encouragement that the Lemays like to hear. They arrived at the beach at 4:30 a.m. and set up the fields – including inflatable goal posts – wearing headlamps. That followed months of work getting permits and recruiting teams to participate.

The brothers started the sand soccer tournaments in 2006 with 16 teams. This year, their spring event in San Diego drew 70 teams, and the sport's success prompted the brothers to expand. Next year, they plan to hold 12 tournaments in seven states, including several in the Midwest. After that, they are eyeing the East Coast.

“It's unbelievable how much growth has already occurred in the last year,” said Chris Lemay. “Across the country. . . people are starting to play beach soccer on a regular basis.”

soccerdotcom Golme - The official goal provider of Soccer in the Sand
Golme - The official goal provider of Soccer in the Sand

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