The Lake Michigan setting is what draws in a lot of participants, such as 10 year old Lilah Cone and 11 year old Katelyn Farstvedt. But playing in the sand brings on another set of challenges for the young players.
“It’s a lot harder to run and stuff. It takes up a lot of your energy,” Cone said.
The tournament was founded in 2006 by Chris Lemay and it started with one tournament in San Diego. The second year, Lemay added Grand Haven and it has since grown into a national tour with 16 tournaments this year across the country.
Lemay said he brought the tournament to Grand Haven because he grew up coming to his parents’ cottage in Spring Lake.
“My friends and I used to play beach soccer out here just for fun and I thought that there was a market for organizing it and making it a little more professional and sure enough we’ve done really, really well and I think it’s an event that the community looks forward to on an annual basis now,” Lemay said. “I immediately wanted to bring it to this beach because I was so familiar with this beach and this is the beach I grew up going to.”
This year the Grand Haven tournament had 350 teams entered and with 8 to 10 players on a team, that accounts for around 3,000 players plus families and friends out on the beach.
For the older age groups, the game becomes more technical and physical. Carson Robotham, 19, has played in the tournament for two years and said playing on the sand is completely different than playing on grass or turf.
“There is nothing similar, I would say. It’s a lot harder because the ball doesn’t move the same way, the ball doesn’t bounce. Soccer in the sand is just an aerial game, so you have to be good in the air,” the Caledonia native said. “I’d say when the ball is on the ground it’s really physical, but in the air it’s not as physical because you let people play in the air.”
Morgan Croon, a 16 year old from Canton, said she prefers to play on grass because it’s easier to keep the ball under control but likes the atmosphere of Soccer in the Sand.
“Huge, it’s like so much more aggressive. It’s a whole other (kind of) play,” Croon said of the level of physicality.
Lemay said over the years he has seen the development of the soccer in the sand progress a lot, especially with players who have been competing in the tournament from a young age.
“What’s happened now is that we’ve got players that have been coming to this tournament since they were young kids and now they’re graduating into our college and pro divisions,” he said. “The nuances of beach soccer and the development of players playing the game properly has really, really grown.”
Besides the competition, the beach atmosphere is the biggest draw for players around the state.
“Just being out here with everybody,” Robotham said of his favorite part of the tournament. “There’s lots of people, it’s warm and everybody is just here to have fun.”