SEASIDE - It takes a year to plan.
It takes more than 1,600 players to participate.
And, it takes much more than a half-mile of beach to include everyone.
With 115 nets already being strung on the beach from the Hi Tide Motel on Avenue G to the Seaside Aquarium near Second Avenue, it's a sure thing that the annual Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament is about to begin.
This is the tournament's 30th year, and in honor of its anniversary, the Seaside Chamber of Commerce hopes to establish one record and break another. With 810 teams registered last year and more anticipated this year (730 teams were already registered by Wednesday afternoon), the event is, according to the chamber, the world's largest amateur volleyball tournament.
But this year, efforts will be made to stake that claim officially by submitting it to the World Records Academy, which keeps track of that sort of thing.
There's another number the chamber is going after, too, this time for the Guinness Book of World Records: the most consecutive volleyball passes over a net. The record is 110, but that's for indoor volleyball. It may be that the outdoor record will be established this weekend.
"We will have to figure in wind, sand, sun and all of that," said Steve Lindecke, managing partner for Elevation Group, a sports event company that manages and promotes the tournament. "But no matter what, at the end of the day, we'll have a good time."
One tournament isn't even wrapped up before planning begins for the next tournament. When that happens, the organizers begin making lists, and the first is a list of changes.
This year, those changes include:
New divisions, for a total of 34, including a division for masters teams 55 years and older.
Two additional tents to enable the games' results to be reported quicker.
Apparel, including hats, fleece jackets and tank tops featuring the 30th anniversary logo.
1,800 player gift bags that include offers from local Seaside chamber members
A "frequently asked questions" section on the official volleyball site, where players ask where they can pick up their prizes, where they report their scores, etc.
A "looking for a team" section on the site that nearly resembles an online dating site: "I'm quick to respond and quick on my feet," says one writer. "I can jump high, block, spike, bump - you name it, I'll go for it! (I'm) very passionate and looking for a great team!"
As the months go by before the next tournament, promotional ads are written and placed in national magazines devoted to volleyball. The sport has a following.
"Although many people play volleyball, more than 16 million watch it," Lindecke said.
The increasing number of teams that come to Seaside from all over the United States, as well as British Columbia, reflects the local tournament's popularity.
When Elevation Group began promoting the tournament in 2008, Lindecke said he realized how much fun it was to be in Seaside.
"We thought that the nation should know about it - that volleyball players in Florida should know about the tournament in Seaside," Lindecke said. "The Northwest is a unique place to go, which contributes to the reason that people want to come here to play."
Lindecke is mulling over the idea of calling even more attention to the tournament via television coverage that could be aired regionally, maybe even nationally. That means the tournament might attract more sponsors who could benefit from the publicity. "Even if it's regional, television will put the tournament in front of a mass audience," Lendecke said.
Players begin registering online in April. "It begins as a trickle, then suddenly, in July and August, it's an avalanche," said Al Smiles, director of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce.
To keep up, chamber staff members and volunteers take turns at the computer in the chamber office for weeks before the big weekend. Every year, the number of registrations grows: 600 in 2007, 750 in 2009, 810 in 2010.
About six weeks before the tournament, Smiles and Lendecke and their staffs compare notes more often. They check off their "to-do" lists:
Will there be enough bottled water?
Will the equipment arrive in time to move the sand into berms to create an arena?
Has trash removal been organized?
When will the portable toilets arrive?
Are there enough tents, tables and chairs, and who will set them up?
Then, this week - the week before the event - everything speeds up. Event coordinators Doug Barker and Jeanne Clark organize the 50 volunteers who have signed on to help sell T-shirts, distribute prizes, check-in teams and perform a multitude of other chores.
Members of the North Pacific Beach Volleyball Association in Portland arrive in Seaside to set up court lines, hang nets and act as tournament directors.
"They are the experts at putting up the tournament," Smiles said.
It takes 230 holes to be dug for 230 posts for 115 nets. The courts are lined up in front of the Prom, a half-mile the length of the beach north to south and 12 courts deep, east to west.
In the last couple of days, the tents arrive. The caterer sets up. Sponsors' banners are hung. A stage is assembled. The sound system is tested.
Elsewhere, spectators are loading an old couch or overstuffed chairs into pick-ups and heading to their favorite viewing spot on the beach. Two days ahead of time, visitors from Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. cordon off areas where they plan to spend the weekend watching their favorite players.
"Once a claim is staked, they don't have to protect it," Clark said. "People won't move their things."
When everyone gets together, "there's a lot of meeting and greeting and bantering and comradeship," said Smiles, who called the reunions among his favorite things about the tournament. "It's good to watch old friends seeing each other again."
By 9 a.m. Friday, the tournament's opening day, "there's a sea of volleyball courts" on the beach, Smiles said. After the U.S. and Canadian flags are raised and the countries' national anthems are played, the games begin.
By 4 p.m. every one of the 115 courts are filled with teams. Professional players vie for $21,500 in cash prizes. Amateurs receive products, including backpacks, volleyballs, laptop bags and water bottles. Altogether, the 508 prizes and cash amount to $50,000 in value.
The number of spectators (admission to watch is free) ranges from 5,000 to 10,000, depending on who's making the estimate.
By Sunday evening, the tournament is over, and everything is off the beach by Monday night. The sand berms have been flattened and the sand spread around; trash has been cleared. "We always leave the beach in good condition," Smiles said.
The organizers pause to catch their breath. Then, planning for the next tournament begins.