Beach volleyball is like the groovy cousin of the hard court version of the sport.
Players don shades, smear on sunscreen, and hit the sand, literally, to compete in a two-versus-two sport that’s exploded in popularity in recent years.
Friends and teammates Zechariah Johnson and Kaden Gamache think the beach game is pretty cool, especially after they won the U14 provincials and went on to snare silver medals at the nationals.
Asked which version of the sport they prefer, 14-year-old Gamache and 13-year-old Johnson didn’t hesitate.
“Beach,” they answered, in unison.
“You’re not as dependent on other players,” said Johnson, a Langley resident. “If you’re having a bad day, usually you bring your team down. [With beach] you’re more dependent on yourself.”
“We just have such a great time out there,” Aldergrove’s Gamache said. “It’s really fun. We love it.”
At the beach nationals Aug. 17-19 at Spanish Banks in Vancouver, Gamache and Johnson rolled past every team but one.
Parvir Jhajj and Sharone Vernon-Evans represented the Mississauga Pakmen Volleyball Club with vigour, going 8-0 at the Canadian tournament.
In the gold medal match, the Ontario pair won the first set 21-11 before Johnson and Gamache rallied to take the second stanza 21-16. Jhajj and Vernon-Evans won the third and deciding set 15-6.
The gold medal final was Gamache’s and Johnson’s third loss of the tournament, all to the gold-medal winning Ontario pair. Other than that, they went undefeated, beating teams from White Rock, Nanaimo, another Ontario team, and Edmonton.
At the time of nationals Gamache was 13 and Johnson, who as playing up a year, was 12.
“I was pretty happy,” Johnson said. “The team we lost to was really good. It wasn’t a disappointing loss.”
“We have a lot of respect for them,” Gamache added. “They’re a great team.”
The competitive final drew a large crowd that included Canadian Olympic beach volleyball player Martin Reader.
Reader gave Johnson and Gamache two of his Olympic headbands that he is known for wearing when he plays.
“It meant a lot to the boys to have Martin come up to [them] after the game and encourage them in both their play and their passion for volleyball,” Gamache’s mom Jennifer said. “It inspired the boys to aim their goals high and perhaps represent Canada one day in the Olympics.”
The parents of both local boys were proud of their sons’ showing.
“These guys worked so hard,” Johnson’s mom Julie said. “I’m proud of the hard work.”
Jennifer Gamache said the two “played amazing. Not only were they very skilled on the courts but their sportsmanship made me very proud as a mom.”
By weekend’s end, the boys finally had a chance to decompress.
They played a whole lot of volleyball over three days.
“We slept good that night [after the tournament],” Gamache said.
Gamache and Johnson teaming up continues a long-standing friendship between their two families.
Their dads – Jeff Gamache and Dan Johnson – had played volleyball together at Trinity Western University.
“We’ve always played volleyball, and had fun together,” Gamache said.
The two have an affection of beach volleyball, even though it often takes a physical toll on players.
Johnson said beach volleyball offers “double” the workout, compared to its indoor counterpart.
“It’s a lot harder to move in the sand,” he said.
The two rely more on finesse than power to achieve success.
“We don’t often crush the ball, but I guess we just keep it up and keep it going,” Gamache said.
Looking very far into the future, Gamache said playing for Canada at the Olympics would be “pretty cool.” Beach volleyball made its Olympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“We look up to those guys [Olympians],” Johnson said. “It was really fun watching them at the Olympics.”
If the Olympics is in the cards, Johnson realizes he and Gamache have to elevate their level of play.
“I don’t think there’s anything [Olympic players] do that we don’t, they just do it so much better,” Johnson said. “They don’t have these special tricks, but they’re bigger and they do it so much better than we do. There’s a few tricks they do at a higher level but it’s not like it’s a completely different game.”