To be fully believed, the World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament must be seen and heard.
Think of it as a cross between Annette Funicello's "Beach Blanket Bingo" and Fellini's "Satyricon."
It is arguably the raunchiest officially sanctioned event on the coastline of California. It is San Diego's contribution to the beach culture, played two weekends each July on the sands of Fiesta Island next to Mission Bay.
Start with the names of the 1,100 three-person teams who play the beach softball game that is the stated reason for the event.
The names are so X-rated that no newspaper or television station will use any but the tamest of them. Not that the San Diego media shuns Over-the-Line. In fact, 21 media teams are entered.
Team names include every imaginable double-entendre, innuendo and outright tasteless sexual reference. The women's names are as raw as the men's. Names invoking Lorena and John Bobbitt and President and Hillary Rodham Clinton were popular this year.
The event's sponsor, the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, says that only two topics are forbidden for team names: Anything mocking John Wayne and anything referring to the 1978 PSA crash in San Diego that killed 150 people.
The announcer for Over-the-Line--a lawyer in real life--booms the names continually over a mega-decibel public address system as teams are ordered about the 40 courts. The effect is a decidedly salacious tone for the four-day event.
"We're irreverent, but our hearts are in the right place," OMBAC official Ron House said. "It's all good, clean fun."
Cynthia Thornton, a feminist lawyer in San Diego, calls Over-the-Line "a no-taste zone" that she prefers to avoid. Attendance for the 41st annual tournament, which ends today, was an estimated 75,000, with men greatly outnumbering women.
The queen of Over-the-Line is Ms. Emerson, whose appellation comes from an off-color knock-knock joke. To be selected as Ms. Emerson is an honored achievement for some in the beach communities. One year's Ms. Emerson married a lawyer who eventually served on the City Council and is now a Republican candidate for the Assembly.
At the front of this year's souvenir program is a warm letter of support from Gov. Pete Wilson, a booster of Over-the-Line since his days as San Diego mayor. There is also an official proclamation from Mayor Susan Golding.
The program announces the dates for the 1995 tournament by showing them written on the bare buttocks of four women. Men are also shown with bare buttocks.
How, you may ask, can an event so culturally retrograde be not only permitted on public property but honored and encouraged by local officialdom, especially in this post-Tailhook era?
One answer is that Over-the-Line, as a beach sport, was invented in San Diego in the 1950s and the tournament had become a local institution before social mores changed.
The second answer lies with the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, which, despite its beer-swilling, beach-rat image, is one of San Diego's most publicly spirited service groups.
"Only OMBAC could get away with this," said Kathie Baczysnski, a 30ish home economics teacher who was in the crowd on opening day.
OMBAC consists of 450 members and is replete with lawyers, developers, carpenters, real estate agents, teachers and 28 police officers. Most are confirmed beach enthusiasts--surfers, lifeguards, volleyball players, swimmers--who refuse to capitulate to middle age.
Profits from the concessions and entry fees from Over-the-Line are used by OMBAC for a long list of charitable activities.
Fund-raising for muscular dystrophy? OMBAC. Toys for poor children at Christmas? OMBAC. When the Pacific Beach Christmas Parade needed a sponsor? OMBAC. Youth athletics and sports activities for handicapped children? OMBAC.
When a Boys' Club in a poor neighborhood needed renovation and painting, it was OMBAC that responded. When a center for AIDS patients needed work before it could open, OMBAC members volunteered.
In 1987, when then-Mayor Maureen O'Connor needed help organizing a parade for America's Cup winner Dennis Conner, she turned to OMBAC. Ditto when she was concerned about security for the priceless Faberge eggs on loan to San Diego for a Soviet arts festival.
"More cities should have groups like OMBAC," said O'Connor, who regularly attends Over-the-Line and helps the group sell hot dogs.
Even feminist leaders in San Diego are loathe to say anything too negative about the bawdy extremes of the beach bacchanal.
Jennifer Coburn, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Organization for Women, said NOW disapproves of the attitudes toward women displayed at Over-the-Line, but prefers to devote its energy to more important issues such as abortion rights.
"I think it would be great if the good old boys from Over-the-Line would just continue doing their charitable deeds and not consider having women as toys as one of the fringe benefits," Coburn said.
Most of the participants know little or nothing of OMBAC's charitable activities. All they know is that Over-the-Line is the mother of all beach parties.
"It's fabulous," said Andy Woolley, 23, who runs a potato chip company. "It's 20,000 fraternity guys reliving the past."
Tricia Tryon, 24, a topless dancer from Lemon Grove, strolled through the crowd wearing a lavender string bikini and a beeper: "In case somebody needs me."
San Diego police officers walk the sandy grounds, pose for pictures with Ms. Emerson, and turn a tolerant eye to all but the most egregious cases of rowdiness.
Asking a woman to bare her breasts is considered acceptable at Over-the-Line. If a woman complies, a crowd gathers. The souvenir program contains topless photos, as well as a list of team names.
"Girls who come to Over-the-Line know exactly what they're getting into," said Sue Giansiracusa, 31, a mortgage banker. "Many of them are happy to bare everything if they're asked correctly."
Banners are hung by businesses that figure Over-the-Line participants might be good customers: ROCK 102.1 radio station, Jose Cuervo, Bacardi, Deja Vu strip joint and King Stahlman Bail Bonds.
Some fans arrive early, pitch their awnings, lean back in their beach chairs and survey the passing scene. Mass quantities of beer are consumed. Many fans express surprise that there are athletic contests going on somewhere.
Julie Miller, 32, an airline flight attendant, has been coming to Over-the-Line for several years. This year she adorned her patch of sand with plastic pink flamingos. She never plays the game, but would not miss the spectacle.
"This is the Mardi Gras of Southern California," she said.