Beginnings – 1940s & 1950s
Beach volleyball enjoys a storied tradition in Carmel, dating back at least 70 years. According to long-time Carmel residents and two of the earliest Carmel Beach volleyball players, Niels Reimers (Carmel High School class of 1951) and Francis “Skip” Lloyd (Carmel High School class of 1952), Wilbur Wilkinson (1911?-1997) established the first beach court at the bottom of 13th Street at Cook’s Cove sometime between the summers of 1946 and 1949. Wilbur’s son Gregor Wilkinson (1935-2009) and Bob Bullock (1926-2013, sports writer for The Monterey Herald) were among the first to play competitive two-man beach volleyball, with Niels and Skip soon joining them for games. Twins Hans Doelman (1933-2014) and Frans Doelman 1933-2018), and Jim Thompson (Carmel High School class of 1951; 1933-2016) were also active players during this time, with Ken Green (1928-2020) joining later in the 1950s. Jim Thompson continued to play beach volleyball until the late 1990s.
The players used kelp as court lines, and the court was seasonal because of the winter storms and tide. Games were “challenge on,” with the winning team staying on the court to play the challenger – a tradition maintained through this day. When they weren’t playing volleyball, players often surfed and swam in Carmel Bay.
According to Joan Lawson (1935-2018; personal communication prior to her passing), her husband Mark Lawson (1931-2004) started playing at the courts when he graduated from Carmel High School in 1949. Many of us knew and played with Mark in the 1980s and 1990s. Mark remained active in beach volleyball until his death in 2004.
In the 1960s, a small group of volleyball players also characterized as “Carmel surfers” — among them Ken Green, Bob Bullock, Warren Nichols, and Dave Fisher — established the first beach volleyball court on the North Dunes, the current location of beach volleyball (Dave Fisher and Warren Nichols, personal communication). The original court was constructed of wood posts. Unfortunately, beach goers would cut down the posts and use them for firewood (Larry Frye, personal communication).
The North Dunes court remained active throughout the 1960s with new players joining the original group, including Ken Green (1928-2020), Jim Sweeney, Dick Ledbetter, Dick Stayers, George Dubetts, Steve Urban, Craig Bettencourt, Calvin White, Michael O’Malley, and Mark Sloane. Mark recalls first learning to play in ~1964 when he was 21 years old and Steve Urban taught him the game. Mark continued playing at the courts through the 1980s.
1970s & 1980s
Larry “Karch” Frye, who started playing on the Carmel Beach around 1971, remembers working with Mark Sloane, Steve Urban, and Jim Thompson to add a second sand court in the early 1970s. The second court was meant to avoid conflicts with the soldiers from Fort Ord who would want to play “jungleball” volleyball on the weekends.
Around 1976 Clem Savoldi from the Running Iron and Larry Frye replaced the wood posts with iron ones. Players would bring their own nets and lines. During this time, Mark Sloane, Steve Urban, Ron Witmark, Jim Thompson, and Larry Frye were among the core group of players. Larry Frye recalls working with Peter Smallwood to lay out in a line and install six wood posts for the initial three courts. Later Larry and Mark Lawson replaced the wood posts with metal ones.
Those three courts supported famous weekend “Maxwell McFly’s Volleyball League,” renamed by Larry the “Carmel Beach Volleyball League,” and also known as the “Bar League.” The League brought twelve, 6-person co-ed sand volleyball teams and hundreds of players together in competition Sunday from August through September from 1976 to 1994. Sometime during this time a fourth court was added. Clem ran the League for the first four years. When Clem became ill, Larry ran the League for the final 14 years. Kelly Sorenson from On The Beach Surf Shop provided the Bar League trophy.
Larry recalls when he took over the League:
Then that year (~1980) I took over the old Bar league, renamed it The Carmel Beach Volleyball league, had new flyers made, and established what was supposed to be true coed sixes, with at least two women on each team, and at least one woman contact. I had flyers made, and traveled all around the Peninsula to various restaurants and bars to sponsor teams, with the intent to have each team wear tee shirts representing each establishment as promotion for the businesses.
During his reign as “commissioner,” Larry created schedules, set up the courts every Sunday, and resolved player disputes. But the League was more than just volleyball. It was a community event that extended beyond the courts. As Larry recalls:
Tommy Tomato, the bartender at Maxwel McFlys would video tape the games and afterwards we would go to Maxwell McFly’s to watch the videos on a VHS player, drink shots, and revel in our fun with conga lines down Ocean Avenue.
Larry also organized the first doubles tournament on Carmel Beach, a coed tournament, around 1984.
In 1989, an eighteen year old Jung Yi began playing at Carmel Beach. Except for brief breaks during her three pregnancies — late term, of course — Jung has played continuously at Carmel Beach for 32 years, setting a record for the most durable and competitive Carmel Beach woman. Jung earned her first AAA rating in 2000, making her also one of the few Carmel Beach locals to earn the highest beach rating.
1990s & early 2000s
In 1991 Michael DeLapa and Digger Smallwood hosted the first Torneo de Las Palmas Heladas, a winter “polar bear” tournament traditionally held the 2nd weekend of December. Many of the best players in Northern California participated, playing in weather that ranged from overcast to pouring rain to gale-force winds to stark clear sunny days. The tournament ran for 28 consecutive years until 2020 when it was postponed because of Covid-19. DeLapa and Smallwood expect to resume the tournament in December 2021. Tournament champions are listed here.
Throughout the early 1990s, On The Beach Surf Shop hosted a number of summer beach 2-person tournaments. Michael DeLapa and Patie McCracken organized 4-person Fourth of July tournaments from the 1990s through the early 2000s.
On November 28, 2009, Jung Yi Crabbe organized a surprise 50th birthday costume party for David Crabbe at Carmel Beach. Owing to the event’s success, Jung organized a similar event the following year, and then the year after. Now an annual Carmel Beach tradition, the tournament-party is a celebration of November, December, and January birthdays. While it is officially called the Beach Volleyball Winter Birthday Bash & Costume Extravaganza, eveyone knows it as the Crabbefest. The volleyball tournament format changes slightly almost every year, thanks to the ingenious tournament director Jim Airola. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Crabbefest was suspended in 2020, but it is expected to be held again in 2021.
Around 2010, JC Myers, Craig Varjian, Edward Dooling and others organized “volleyball palapas” on holiday weekends – Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day – and impromptu celebrations. Palapas featured various tournament formats organized by Jim Airola as well as food and beverages provided by JC Myers, Craig Varjian, and Bruce West.
On May 15, 2011, Michael DeLapa organized a youth beach clinic at the courts with Karch Kiraly, a three-time Olympic gold medalist (two indoor volleyball gold medals, the first beach volleyball gold medalist). Approximately 50 junior players attended, free of charge, with additional support from local volleyball coaches.
In January 2013 Jim Airola installed the first permanent net and lines, mostly because “a bunch of Carmel High kids kept coming over to my house to borrow my nets and lines.” Prior to 2015, Carmel Beach volleyball was only accessible to a relatively small group of players who had their own balls, nets and lines, and were willing to put them up for their foursome or on rare occasions for locals’ tournaments. Most of the time most of the courts were empty, or if a group was playing it was because they were part of the locals-only crowd. With the introduction of permanent nets and lines, the courts become open to anyone at any time, and the Carmel Beach community became younger, more vibrant, more diverse, and more inclusive.
In 2017 Michael DeLapa, Butch Kronlund, David Crabbe, Chuck Pugh, and other volleyball players worked with the City of Carmel to reconfigure the volleyball courts, moving them to their current location and installed new posts, stainless steel sliders, nets, and lines. Jon Hastings and DiG Magazine donated four volleyball nets. Michael DeLapa raised approximately $6500 from the Carmel beach volleyball community for the posts, sliders, and lines.
Enduring Impact of Carmel Beach Volleyball
Today the Carmel beach courts are enjoyed by an extensive community of volleyball enthusiasts from the Monterey Peninsula, Salinas Valley and Hollister, as well as a growing group of Carmel High school boys and girls, and visiting players from around the world.
Carmel Beach volleyball courts have been transformative for thousands of people over more than 70 years, including many current junior high, high school, and college players, as well as many visitors to Carmel Beach. The volleyball courts now are indeed an integral part of the social fabric of the local community. In recent years we’ve hosted free youth clinics with three-time Olympic gold medalist Karch Kiraly and Italian National Team member Daniele Desiderio. Former Stanford men’s and women’s volleyball coach Don Shaw, former women’s professional Ilga Celmins, beach volleyball icons Jon Lee and Jackie Signor, Olympic Gold medalist Jon Root, and dozens of other national and international caliber players are “friends” of Carmel Beach volleyball. In addition, beach volleyball journalist Jon Hastings is now a part-time resident of Carmel, Carmel beach player, and a long-time supporter of the courts.
 History based on conversations with Niels Reimers, Skip Lloyd, Warren Nichols, Dave Fisher, Mark Sloane, Joan Lawson, and Larry Frye — all long-time (40 years+ residents of the Monterey Peninsula). All errors and omissions are mine alone.
1980s-1990s Carmel Bar League (Larry Frye)