From Copacabana to Canton: How Cardiff became a beach volleyball hotspot

Forget Rio and San Diego, Cardiff Beach Volleyball is leading the way for the sport – and they want to go to the Olympics

Victoria Park is home to the training centre for the Welsh national team, with club members also competing in Commonwealth and Olympic qualifying events (Credit: Cardiff Beach Volleyball gallery)

It’s hard to be distant from sport in Cardiff. The national religion that is rugby has its cathedral in the form of the Principality Stadium. Football is also well-served with Cardiff City and Cardiff Met serving both the English and Welsh leagues respectively.

As wet and windswept as the Welsh capital may be, even Sophia Gardens carved out a space for cricket, ice hockey has a home with the Cardiff Devils. Cardiff’s stadia are homes for its beloved sports. 

But one sport in particular has spent decades looking for a home and the sense of identity that comes with it.

“It’s got to be 30 years ago that we got interested in it, but there wasn’t anywhere to play. We went to a beach in west Wales somewhere and we just had two pieces of wood, a piece of string and an old football,” said Carl Haywood, co-founder of Cardiff Beach Volleyball.

It would then become a decades-long journey for Carl Harwood and Mike Constantinou to cultivate a sport that many thought impossible in Wales – beach volleyball.

These were beyond humble beginnings, but the pair wanted to see how far beach volleyball’s roots were in the UK. After winning an amateur tournament with the UK Beach Volleyball Tour, they committed to what seemed like an impossible dream.

“We came back to Cardiff and started looking around for clubs. There were a couple of indoor clubs, but there was nothing for beach volleyball. Yet we’ve got Barry Island beach on our doorstep. We said to each other, ‘Well, let’s set up a little club and start running it,’ said Carl.

Cardiff Beach Volleyball is home to over 120 junior players who take part in U18 and U20 tournaments (Credit: Cardiff Beach Volleyball gallery)

From early on, it would be an uphill struggle. It took a significant amount of time to grow their numbers, but eventually the Barry Island outfit boasted 60 to 70 avid beach volleyball players. 

At the time, Carl and Mike were creating handmade courts on a public beach, far from a guarantee that they could host regular games. 

“If I wanted to set up beach volleyball courts, I had to be there before the public and we were up to 10 or 12 courts there. It was getting very popular and we were doing well on the UK circuit as a team,” said Carl. 

The beach courts couldn’t last, not least because the tide at Barry would quite literally wipe them out on occasion. Barry Town Council also couldn’t ensure space for courts on what is public land. 

Yet, in a cruel twist, their growth would actually force them into making the biggest step for their young organisation – finding a permanent home. 

But a lifeline would come from the heart of the capital, when Carl and Mike were informed of a disused bowls green by Cardiff City Council. 

“They had offered us a few places over a period of five or six years, but nothing was suitable. Then they came to us with Victoria Park Bowling Green. I grew up there, it was my childhood park, so we bit their hand off. We started off with just two courts and they were full all the time,” said Carl. 

It was a nervous new beginning. Locals laughed off the plans and both founders were now facing financial headaches aplenty – with one of the first bills being the £19 per tonne price tag of sand. That adds up when you need 200 tonnes per court.

And yet Victoria Park has now been the home of beach volleyball in Cardiff for almost 10 years, with six full courts now. 

“Our junior clubs are really great, they have access to a facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it’s taken a long road to get to that. Now we’re seeing the results – these juniors are now ranking within the top 15 within the country,” said Carl.

It’s testament to the investment, both financially and emotionally, that Carl and Mike have been constantly supporting the club with for decades.

Cardiff has been consistently growing its reputation as a city for beach volleyball. It has been hosting national under-19s and under-20s tournaments for the last five years and there are calls to invite international teams over to create what Carl envisages as beach volleyball’s answer to the Six Nations. 

But as Carl is all too aware, the growing success of the club is closely followed by the growing costs of running it.

“We’re competing against sports like rugby and football, but we’re classed as a minority sport,” said Carl. “The biggest problem is funding. Me and Mike are putting in every spare cent that we’ve got into the business, not for any financial reward, not for any glory or fame, but because we truly believe that this could be great for not only Wales, but for the whole UK.”

Cardiff City Council is hailing Victoria Park as a success story, but that success was the result of years of convincing others that beach volleyball was earning its keep in a city dominated by rugby and football. 

Beach volleyball has its fair share of celebrity fans too

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Getting finances for the sport has been, and will always be, an uphill struggle,” said Carl. “It’s never easy because asking companies and people for financial support for a sport is always going to be difficult.”

The work has already begun in earnest. Carl is also a hardware engineer at BBC Wales and has extensively developed the club’s online presence to attract new members – he has even built an outdoor broadcasting unit at the club to livestream games.

Despite that, Carl believes it’s sad that people will only look up when people are winning medals in their given sport, but he equally knows the publicity gained from a member of Cardiff Beach Volleyball perhaps becoming a Commonwealth or Olympic medallist is what they dream of.

Going forward, Carl hopes to see Cardiff increase its stature on the international circuit. He wants to send out junior teams more regularly to European competitions, but he equally wishes to put Cardiff forward as a host for more tournaments.

“If I left it as it is now, it’ll survive quite easily – we have enough memberships and we have enough courts – I think it’ll survive for the next 10, 20 years. But it’s not just about surviving. It’s about making it better, particularly for people who’ve never thought of playing the sport to play the sport,” said Carl. 

Carl is a big believer in the phrase ‘Build it, and they will come,’ but his belief in the club and its ambitions couldn’t be more clearly articulated by the following statement: 

“I predict now, within the next three to five years, we will see Welsh representatives in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games, which has never happened before. Really, it’s that close. It’s that close.”