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By Greg Melville
The Summer Olympics may come only once every four years, but the (tiki) torch lighting of your own Beach Olympics can happen any time -- as long as you've got sand, water, a volleyball net, a plastic flying disc and that age-old desire to pummel your buddies in contests of strength and stamina.
"Competing in events and being out on the beach brings out the inner athlete in everyone," says Michelle Knight, co-owner of Adventures by the Sea, a Monterey, Calif.-based adventure-planning outfit.
Organizing tip No. 1: Limit your olympiad to a couple of hours at most so energy won't drop and tempers won't rise. Tip No. 2: Plan the individual events carefully.
"Choose games that will really appeal to everyone and match your group's fitness level," says Cynthia Shon, president of Bay Area, Calif.-based Corporate Games, an organization that helps companies foster team building among employees. "Remember that running around on sand is not easy."
The events below -- picked by our dream team of athletic contest-organizing experts -- should ease your burden. And heck, most of these will work in a grassy park if there's no beach around. What to use for gold medals is up to you.
This is the one must-do contest in any Beach Olympics. Anyone who's ever taken gym class already knows how to play. And thanks to the sand, taking a heroic dive for the ball will make you look like a stud without scraping or bruising. Traditional volleyball rules work great, but if you've got eight or more people, Kevin Vander Vliet, owner of Team Building California suggests this variation: Create four teams and set up four nets connecting at 90-degree angles in the center. (So the nets form an X.) If the ball's served to you, you can hit it across to any of the other three teams. Normal rules for serves and point scoring apply. "It's a lot of fun because if you have one team that's really good, the others can gang up to beat them," says Vander Vliet.
This is another easy-to-organize, fun-to-play favorite. But when you're on sand, the going is too slow for people to be sprinting all around the playing area, like in typical Ultimate. So Shon applies slightly different rules. "We mark off assigned boxes where one person from each team stays. That way there's less running but people are still diving for the frisbee," she says.
It's adaptable to the terrain of just about any beach and easy to set up. If you're using teams, then play by "scramble" rules like in real golf. Here's how it goes: Everyone tees off. Choose whose throw on your team was the best, and then you and all your teammates take your second shot from where that disc landed. Repeat until reaching the end of the hole. "There's great team interaction. There are always some people who have rarely, if ever, thrown a frisbee, and the other team members really get into teaching and helping them," says Knight.
Official rules: Pdga.com/rules
Tug of War
This one needs little explaining. You can buy a thick rope made especially for the sport at FlagHouse.com. If you're really ambitious, you can dig a shallow "pit of shame" for the losers to fall into.
A surprise favorite among the experts, chosen because it involves strength, aim and luck -- and requires the kind of open space a beach provides. You'll need a three-person balloon launcher. (There's one available at Amazon.com.) Then, instead of the hassle of filling up balloons, use foam balls (available at sporting goods stores) and soak them in water before you shoot. Points can be scored based on distance or for hitting specific targets.
This is the grueling grand finale -- much of what's in it will be based on your imagination, as well as the terrain, size and crowdedness of the beach.
As part of the relay, you can have a kayak race, a fill-the-bucket-with-water event using only your hands, a three-legged race in the water, a beach chair obstacle course or a combat crawl through the sand (maybe under a fishnet).
Vander Vliet recommends you include elements that involve brains over brawn as part of the relay, like a jigsaw puzzle that the team has to complete before advancing (very "Survivor"-esque, no?). "Putting in mental elements is an equalizer if one team is better physically than the other," he says.
One team challenge that combines both the physical and mental aspects is a paper plate minefield. Blindfold one person per team, and have his teammates verbally guide him around the plates, from one end of the minefield to the other. If he steps on one, he starts over. The options are limitless. Official rules: Wikipedia.org
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Greg MelvilleGreg Melville is a former Men's Journal editor and writer for Men's Health.