2017-07-05 08:20:00 CEST

Sax on the Beach: Sea to Sky

Read the fifth installment of Ben Saxton's Swatch Major Series blog

So long Poreč! Hello Gstaad!

Goodbye Adriatic Sea! Nice to see you Swiss Alps!

Adios sea breeze! Buongiorno fresh mountain air!

Tschüss Swatch Major Series! Salut…… Swatch Major Series?!

It’s a short turn around. There’s barely been enough time to read the last blog and already here’s another thanks to back-to-back European events. A small flight and a couple long drives for most of us, but all the athletes have made Croatia a quick memory, and preparations for Switzerland are already well underway. There’s no rest for the wicked… The wicked awesome (best to imagine me saying that with a wink and two thumbs up). The adjustment period may be small, but when going from one picturesque location to the next, the brevity doesn’t bother anyone. Except maybe if a team has just won the final in one country and needs to play a country quota match the next day in another, but that’s never happened before, has it?

Every tournament is a fresh start, so when the season really gets into gear, those couple days (or zero days for Pedro/Guto) between one event and the next can be very important. What happened yesterday no longer matters. Tomorrow becomes the new objective. The consecutive tournaments are where a team’s ability to regroup and refocus really comes into play. For everyone looking to come away from the Swatch Major Series in Gstaad with a coveted cowbell it will be essential to adapt quickly to the new environment. So what are the major differences between Croatia and Switzerland that a player needs to adjust to?

The most obvious difference is the altitude. Poreč lies near sea level while Gstaad sits up in the mountains about one kilometer higher. Now you may not be able to see how that makes difference right away, but the thinness of the air actually plays a factor in a couple of ways.

  • The first is that athletes might get tired faster. Less air means our lungs need to work a little harder, so those super long crazy rallies that we all love will take more of a toll (especially if the referees decide to be real sticklers about limiting time between rallies.)
  • The second is how it affects the ball. It’s subtle, but less air means less air resistance. This means that when players are contacting the ball they’ll need to be even more precise than usual, because a mishit that would have hit the line in Poreč, might land 10cm out in Gstaad.

Ben and partner Chaim Schalk do their best model impressions at last year's Gstaad Major.Ben and partner Chaim Schalk do their best model impressions at last year's Gstaad Major.

Another difference is the sand. No two courts are ever the same in beach volleyball. Thanks to the ever-shifting nature of sand, the playing surface will change every point played. It’s important to get a feel for a new venue’s sand, so that you can know exactly how it will affect your movements. Deeper, thick sand will shift more freely, making it more difficult to run and jump out of, but will also restrict your opponent in the same ways which might free up better shots or prevent them from crushing the ball so often. Shallow, fine sand will be the opposite and get packed a little more. Movement and jump will be easier, which could make for a better game for the heavy swinger or big blocker. When a beach volleyball player steps onto a new court, we’ll be looking at any number of qualities that could affect how we play: depth, fineness, cleanliness, grit, softness, etc. We could probably all become quality sand sculptors in our spare time.

There is one thing that is probably the biggest thing on everyone’s mind when preparing for the Swatch Major Series in Gstaad, that wasn’t on our mind in Poreč. No one talks about it, but everyone is thinking it. That thing is the heavily feared Swiss dairy cow attack. When you see two players nod to each other as they pass, it’s us showing each other respect for braving the threat year after year. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s why they give out a cowbell to the medallists, to show that the winner’s conquered their opponents as well their fear of the dairy cow. What’s that? That’s not why? I’m making all that up?

Nevertheless, Poreč is in the rearview mirror, next destination Gstaad. There’s no more waiting, the season is finally in full swing. This will be the 19th installment of the iconic event, and the third year as part of the Swatch Major Series. The teams with the best ability to recover, refocus and readjust will earn their cowbell this week, proving their mastery over the dairy cow beach volleyball!


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