Beach volleyball has evolved from the popular social games of volleyball played on many beaches around the world. This version, rather than being played on indoor hard courts, is played on sand courts, which are either formed naturally or built specifically for the purpose. Instead of a team of six, each team consists of only two players, but otherwise the rules are almost identical with some exceptions including:
- The size of the court
- The block always counts as the first contact
- The disallowance of the dink play where a player uses their finger tips to redirect the ball into the opponent's court instead of a hard spike
- Stricter rules around double-contacts during hand setting
One of the facets of beach volleyball is the use of hand signals by players to indicate to their partner what sort of play they intend to make. These signals are made behind the back, to avoid the opposition seeing the signals. Generally, a closed fist means the player will not attempt a block, one finger means the player will attempt to block an opponent's spike down the line, and two fingers means the player will attempt to block an opponent's spike into the angle. Combined with the standard attire of female competitors, these pictures proved irresistible to editors of tabloid newspapers.
Beach volleyball started in Santa Monica, California in the 1920s. A decade later, beach volleyball began to appear in Europe. By the 1940s, two main tournaments were being played on the beaches of Santa Monica for trophies. In the 1960s, an attempt to start a professional volleyball league was made in Santa Monica. It failed, but a professional tournament was held in France for 30,000 French Francs. In the 1970s, a few professional tournaments in Santa Monica were sponsored by beer and cigarette companies. Most of the players representing the United States in the indoor Olympic Games were coming from the beaches of Southern California. The best players had to decide whether to play in professional tournaments, or to restrict themselves to amateur tournaments, so they could be eligible for the Olympic Games. In 1996, beach volleyball became a separate Olympic sport.
In the 2004 Olympics, a DJ played music clips between sets while female dancers in short skirts performed. This and the requirement that women players wear more revealing clothing than the men led to accusations that the sport was less respectful than other Olympic events.
Current stars of Beach Volleyball include Kerri Walsh, Misty May, Holly McPeak, Elaine Youngs, Sona Novakova, Eva Celbova, Ana Paula Connelly, and Kerri Pottharst.