This week, I’m really excited to bring you an interview with the co-founder of Cardiff Beach Volleyball, Mike Constantinou. Mike has answered a few questions on the origins and stories behind one of the fastest-growing and most successful beach volleyball centres in the UK. It’s a great read, and I’m really grateful to him for taking the time to chat to me. Read on to find out all about the beach centre and where it came from.
Please can you give us a brief introduction to the club..
Cardiff Beach Volleyball, home to Beach Volleyball Wales, is based in Victoria Park, 2 miles west of Cardiff City Centre. The club was formed here in September 2015 on a former bowling green with the help of Cardiff Council, Sayer Amusements and Severn Sands. More about that later…
Now, we have six courts, a fantastic clubhouse and lots of brilliant members who are using the courts all year round. We host lots of events at the club, too-from private birthday parties for kids all the way up to prestigious tournaments like the Welsh Open, the junior Home Nations and lots of Fireball’s events, too.
How did the club start?
The club migrated from Barry Island to Cardiff. Some older players will have played at Barry Island tournaments run by Carl Harwood, director of Barry and Cardiff Beach Volleyball. Barry Island was vulnerable to the elements with high tides, busy periods and always needing to set up the courts before playing. It was also a public space, and as such anyone could walk onto the court or occupy the sometimes limited space required to set up a court. To progress the sport the club had to move and find a home.
Carl and I therefore decided to explore the possibility of moving the beach closer to the players, following the example set by other countries at the time. From that dream, the centre was born!
With the help of Cardiff Council, Sayer Amusements and Severn Sands, we took over the unused bowling green in Victoria Park and established the club there. Cardiff Council made a very kind donation of 2 volleyball courts’ worth of sand to start the club off. The sand was dropped onto an area of the old bowling green, leaving areas of grass to play on. The following year, in 2016, Severn Sands were so impressed with how their sand was being used that they donated a further court’s worth of sand, meaning the club now had 3 courts. Over the years, Cemex, Cardiff Council and Severn Sands have all contributed sand to the club, and we are really grateful for their support.
The club then began to build momentum, with more members coming onboard and people using the facility, allowing the purchase of another court. After that, Sport Wales helped to fund the largest project: resetting the boundary walls to accommodate the final courts.
Within no time of us opening the word got out and players wanted to be part of this amazing journey. People started to join our club and play. Regular classes were held, teaching children from 5 and up, shortly followed by beginner and intermediate classes for adults. Cardiff Council, who had supported the development, showed a great deal of pride in the club, and started showing us off at every opportunity.
The timing was perfect, as beach volleyball was then included for the first time in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The senior teams had a goal and the best place to train. To qualify, they would have to beat Scotland, Cyprus and England, who had much more international experience (at the time) than the Welsh players: Conor Robins & Sean Davies, and Sian & Megan Warren, coached by Michael Constantinou and Billy Ewings. Although neither team qualified, they held their own, winning points and battling against these much stronger teams.
How does the club run?
The club is run on a voluntary basis around full time jobs, kids and cats. The club members can treat the club as their own, with full time access and freedom. In return they help everything run smoothly and show great respect to the place and fellow members. Carl has pretty much built everything at the club himself and manages the facility with his wife Riina, I take care of the administration and senior coaching while my wife Julia manages the regular training sessions and would welcome any qualified coaching assistance to continue to offer and expand the classes.
How does the club look today?
Today, players have use of 6 courts in total, with the option of converting 2 courts into 1 show court with surround seating for our bigger tournaments. The clubhouse, in the former bowling pavilion, has a kitchen with a fridge/freezer, sofas, a tv and internet. Carl has recently installed a state of the art video system, meaning that you can now stream play from all the courts on the site. As well as that, there are 2 indoor showers, a changing room and an outdoor shower and decking area, all set on the edge of the beautiful Victoria Park.
What was the greatest challenge with setting up the beach centre?
The greatest challenge was the initial agreement with Cardiff Council, as this was new to everyone. It took a year of negotiations, and when there was finally a vote from 8 main council members all had agreed that this was the best option. Since then we have learned many things, from forming and closing companies to running a CASC Sport Charity and completing / submitting accounts to Companies house and HMRC.
Talk us through what to expect in a (normal!) summer..
From early Spring to late Autumn the club runs regular training classes which you can join. Our main coach David Panah has opened a gym at the club and, as well as volleyball, is also offering sport-specific fitness training. He is placed within the top 10 UK teams with his partner Mindau Ivanauskas.
Most nights, there will be people at the club playing, training and chilling out down there. We operate a 2 games and off policy at busy times, so you are guaranteed to be able to play. We believe that we offer really good value for money to our members; rather than charging by the hour, members can sign up for yearly or monthly membership, allowing them to use the club whenever they want. Or, for those that want to use the club on an ad hoc basis, you can just buy one-off day passes. You can then stay as long as you want! The main thing for us is that we want people to be able to use the courts as much as possible and we think the pricing structure reflects that.
Weekends often mean regular tournaments and training weekends run by Cardiff Beach Volleyball & Fireball. These events attract players from all parts, including Ireland, Scotland, France (the national teams of these 3 countries have competed in the Welsh Open championships) Germany, Finland and Spain. We often also get lots of English players at our event, as they are always very well run with great prizes, easy accommodation and the delights of Cardiff Centre and Bay area. Event weekends are definitely the best time to visit the centre, but it’s advisable to get your entries in early!
What does the future look like?
The future for us is about maintaining the high standards that we set for ourselves, and continuing to progress all our players while attracting more members. We also want to reinforce and build upon the good relationships we have established within the volleyball, local and political community. The club is looking into obtaining a second location in Cardiff and promoting the 4 a side game at this venue. This will help more players transition from indoor volleyball and attract a new stream of players. During the peak times all 6 courts are busy without any more space to expand into.
A final message?
As a co-founder of the club, I am very proud of what we have achieved, and I love the convenience of having our own club so close to home. From myself, Julia, Carl, Riina and Sam we hope one day you can experience for yourselves a warm welcome from the friendly Welsh Volleyball Family.