Laguna Open beach volleyball tournament returns for 67th year
The Laguna Open beach volleyball tournament is celebrating its 67th year when play begins next weekend, making it the longest-running open beach volleyball tournament in the world.
Like anything that has been around for close to seven decades, the tournament has seen its share of ups and downs.
Tournament director Kirk Morgan has witnessed it all.
“It started in a very humble fashion and blew up in the 1980s and early ’90s to be a tournament with a $100,000 purse, sponsored by the big alcohol companies,” he said. “But then, the city outlawed advertising on sand, especially alcohol advertising on sand, and all the money went away. The tournament almost died. It went from being a $100,000 purse down to a $400 purse, and went from having the biggest names in the sport to basically being a poorly attended little regional tournament.”
Morgan, who took over as tournament director in 2010, now can see it as something in between those two extremes. But he is excited, because big names are indeed expected in Laguna when the tournament starts Friday at Main Beach.
And the men’s and women’s tournaments will award $24,000 in prize money — up 30% from last year — to those participants.
“We’re pretty proud,” Morgan said. “We have a monster main draw. It looks like the much larger Manhattan Beach Open that was two weeks ago.”
Four teams in each gender will qualify Friday for the 16-team main draw, which begins Saturday morning in a double-elimination format. Beach volleyball legends Randy Stoklos and Laguna Beach native Dain Blanton will be announcing the action.
The top two teams in each gender will receive wild-card bids into the AVP Tour Huntington Beach Open event in November.
Among the men’s teams scheduled to compete in Laguna are Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne, who won the Manhattan Beach Open last month. Another top team in the draw features Trevor’s younger brother, Taylor Crabb, and Taylor Sander.
Taylor Crabb was selected as a Tokyo Olympian in beach volleyball last summer, but was replaced by Bourne due to a positive COVID-19 test. Bourne and partner Jake Gibb went on to advance to the Olympics round of 16 before being eliminated.
Avery Drost and Chase Frishman is another Southern California team that looks to win at Laguna. Drost and Frishman already have a pair of second-place finishes together on the AVP Tour this summer, at the Atlantic City and Virginia Beach stops.
The Laguna Open is a city tournament, but run in partnership with the AVP and California Beach Volleyball Assn.
On the women’s side, Morgan said top players scheduled to compete include Sarah Pavan, who won the 2019 World Championships with her partner Melissa Humana-Paredes. Geena Urango and Savvy Simo, former standouts at USC and UCLA respectively, will also be players to watch, as will Hermosa Beach native Carly Wopat.
The local “Battle of the Beaches” competition will also return for a third year. The competition pits the four iconic volleyball beaches of Laguna against each other in a four-person battle, and Victoria Beach will defend its title against Three Arch Bay, Emerald Bay and Main Beach.
Overall, Morgan said tournament staff works hard to keep the feel of the Laguna Open as an old-school beach volleyball tournament, which the players appreciate.
“It’s much more intimate than any of the other tournaments,” he said. “People can almost sit with their feet right on the court, and that’s a big thing from the old days. They would have people crowded around the courts, literally almost all the way up to the boundary lines. Nowadays, they’re pushed way back and they’re seated way up high in grandstands and everything.
“Our beach is so small that we’re kind of forced to keep it intimate, but we like it that way, and the players love it because there’s this instantaneous feel of feedback.”
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.
All the latest on Orange County from Orange County.
Get our free TimesOC newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Daily Pilot.