Manhattan Beach Open features an old-school vibe

Fans lined the edges of the beach volleyball courts, lounging just inches away from players, easy distance for playful banter.

“So,” one fan began, “are those shorts pink, or salmon?”

“Umm … salmon,” joked a player, a long thought later.

The 50th anniversary of the Manhattan Beach Open, considered the crown jewel of beach volleyball events, was certainly intimate Saturday. It was also old school.

No fences, no seating, no international or Assn. of Volleyball Professional rules. And all were welcome for free.

The throwback style came on the heels of the AVP’s folding last week because it ran out of money, forcing Manhattan Beach city officials and others to scramble to keep the event alive.

Sponsors pitched in late, coming up with $15,000 in prize money. And Saturday, the event, for what it was, had a successful showing: 115 teams — 75 in the men’s competition, and 40 women’s teams — showed up to play on 32 volleyball courts as an estimated 4,000 fans came and went in pristine sunshine.

Of course, the day had its glitches. Initially, a shortage of referees required that players on losing teams officiate the games that followed theirs.

But as the day continued, that eased and crowds grew, especially around the courts.

“There’s so much energy. It’s electric,” said Aaron Wachtfogel, who is on the top-seeded men’s team with Sean Rosenthal.

Wachtfogel and Rosenthal advanced to the men’s semifinals in the winner’s bracket. For Rosenthal, a win would mean a repeat, as he won the Open last year with Jake Gibb.

Priscilla Lima and Angela Lewis, the top-seeded women’s team, advanced to the women’s semifinals in the winner’s bracket.

They’re also the No. 7-ranked team in the current AVP women’s team rankings, and both Lima and Lewis, as well as Wachtfogel and Rosenthal, who played on the AVP tour, expressed frustration with the rules changes.

Among the changes for the Open: longer courts and sideout scoring — in which only teams that serve can earn points — rather than using international rules that award points every time the ball hits the ground.

“It’s better this than nothing, but they could’ve done what we’re used to,” Lima said.

Added Lewis: “When they do throwback games in football or baseball, they don’t change the rules back to what they used to be. They just change the jerseys. I’d be fine with wearing an old-school one-piece.”

Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh is boycotting this Open because of the rule changes, and she tried to get other players to join her. Whether they did or didn’t, a glance at the bracket shows that many top players aren’t competing this year.

J. Parker Saikley, the Open’s tournament director, said the old-rules switch was part of his plan, since it’s the Open’s 50th anniversary and, because they’re on a shoestring budget, it’s drastically different from typical AVP events.

“Because of the sports financial struggles around the country, I still think that all the players should’ve rallied around this event regardless of the rules,” he said.

Said Rosenthal, who, like Wachtfogel, is from Redondo Beach: “We didn’t want to do it, but it’s my hometown, so I wasn’t missing it.” Play will start at 9 a.m. Sunday.