Where’s the beach?
In Edmonton, there was Accidental Beach, the tiny one that suddenly appeared out of nowhere on the North Saskatchewan River. But it’s not exactly Copacabana or Ipanema Beach in Brazil and, besides, it doesn’t exist at this exact moment with the current high water levels.
The other beach in town is the man-made strip on the lake in Hawrelak Park created for the swim portion of the annual ITU World Triathlon Series event that also runs next week.
You’d figure Edmonton would be a highly unlikely location for the only FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event in either Canada or the U.S. this year — the only one in Canada since 2011.
But a beach has suddenly appeared at the Northlands Park racetrack where for 118 consecutive years thoroughbred horses ran during the Edmonton Exhibition (now K-Days).
This year the fillies favoured to win at Northlands Park will be Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Parades.
Our freshly crowned world champions have experienced some remarkable venues before but have never competed at a horserace track.
Pavan and Humana-Parades say beach volleyball has, with rare exceptions, outgrown the beach.
“We get the opportunity to play in some really amazing locations and the majority of them are far away from any real beach,” said Sarah.
“I played on the water in The Hague,” said Melissa of a floating stadium created on the Hofvijver pond in the very centre of the city.
“I played in the sunken Roman tennis stadium in Rome, a venue created in an old steel factory in Ostrava in the Czech Republic, a venue in the middle of the Swiss Alps and the venue that was set up along the cruise ship docking harbour in Stavanger, Norway,” said Sarah.
It’s a sight to behold.
Or, actually, it’s a site to behold.
What John May, Ron Pauk and their team have done for starters has been basically build six giant sandboxes.
Two are practice courts that have been constructed on the infield of the racetrack. Three competition courts, separated by hay bales, line the homestretch virtually from rail to rail for the length of a football field.
The location of centre court is where you’d least expect to find it. It’s in the paddock area at the east end of the Northlands Park grandstand complex.
A full beach volleyball court barely fits in the enclosure but a 700-800-seat grandstand will be built on the track itself to form the north side and another on the east side.
An open hospitality area is already in place on the west side where bettors used to watch the proceedings of the horses being saddled and the jockeys climbing aboard and walked until being led to the track for the parade introductions.
But it’s the south side of the enclosure that will become the signature of the design. The dozen numbered stalls where the horses were saddled are being transformed into sponsors and VIP hosting suites.
The actual indoor racetrack plant has been boarded up and will remain that way. Fans will come in from the K-Days stage area of the midway and watch the action on the competition courts on the track like they’d watch the races as if they were ‘railbirds’. There will be picnic tables, benches and chairs, barbecue, beverages, concession stands and entertainment activations. Beach volleyball has always provided a party atmosphere and that will be the intention here.
There’s a lot to be done between now and practice day Tuesday. There’s the construction of temporary grandstand seating, the hospitality areas to be created, fit-out draping and decorating to be done, signage to be installed, athletes benches and officials judging stands to be built and TV camera positions to be constructed.
They’re hoping to use the hay bales and saddle options for athletes to sit as part of the racetrack theme.
“The greatest challenge has been to bring the beach to Edmonton,” said Puak, former manager of programming of the CNE in Toronto for 20 years who is directing the venue build.
“We’ve definitely done something very different here. And we’d definitely like to do it again and perfect it next year.”
First of all, they hauled in 2,000 tons of sand.
That’s a lot of sand.
“Federation International Volleyball has a consultant that helps promoters around the world get the right quality of sand and we were able to locally source our sand,” said May of the FIVB specific requirements.
If you’ve ever been to Brewer’s Beach at Gull Lake, that’s basically the brand of sand required.
“We had 1,600 truckloads of the stuff,” said Puak.
The transformation of the racetrack into a beach, especially if summer actually arrives for K-Days, may even be a bigger draw than the beach volleyball players from around the world themselves.
Well, other than two new headliners.