City, participants deem Six Man a success



Team Magnum celebrates their three-peat at the Charlie Saikley Six Man Volleyball Tournament Sunday. Photo by Elizabeth Weaver

A strange moment occurred in the minutes before the men’s open division finals of the Charlie Saikley Six-Man Volleyball tournament late Sunday afternoon. It was part benediction, part remembrance, and wholly a hope for the future of the besieged event.

John Thompson was briefly given control of the Public Address system. Thompson, the multi-megaphoned mouthpiece for finalists Team Magnum, is best known for a steady stream of competitive invective that has made the repeat champions – all dressed like actor Tom Selleck’s television character Magnum PI, with handlebar mustaches and Hawaiian shirts – the willing villains of the tournament.

But Thompson’s purpose at this moment was something different. He asked everyone present – a few thousand fans surrounding the court and watching from the Strand and the pier – to get down on one knee.

“This is not an ‘us’ thing,” Thompson said. “It’s a ‘we’ thing.”

This was a “Charlie moment,” Thompson said, recalling the late “godfather of beach volleyball” who is the namesake and guiding spirit for an event that began in 1957 with 1,000 dedicated volleyball enthusiasts on the beach and by last year had grown into a 60,000 person, raucous party descending upon the entire downtown.

The PA system began blaring “Sweet Caroline.” Team Magnum jumped up and down and then collapsed in a pile on the court and the crowd sang along to the chorus: “Good times never seem so good…So good! So good!”

“That song always made Charlie happy,” Thompson explained later. “We never knew exactly why, but he always smiled when we played it.”

And then Team Magnum and a longtime local team and first-time finalist, 12th Street/Sangria, launched into what Saikley would have loved even more – a hard-fought volleyball match, one that will rank as one of the great finals of the Six-Man’s recent history.

“This is redemption,” said Kevin Barry, 12th Street team sponsor. “We brought it back. After this year, the Six Man is back.”

Mayor Mitch Ward said that the tournament had indeed been brought back from the brink of extinction.

“This year was our attempt to make sure it was saved, and preserved for future years,” Ward said. “With the success of this year, we will definitely be going forward.”

The end of the party?

Though the city promised to cut down on alcohol at last weekend’s Six-Man Volleyball Tournament, one team still brought oversized red cups to the event. Photo by Olivia Keston

At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, a small army of yellow-shirted security guards marched down Manhattan Beach Boulevard to the pier, prepared for the worst.

By midday, throngs of people had arrived – an estimated 50,000 attendees, according to the city – only 10,000 fewer than last year, which was by all accounts was the most apocalyptic Six Man thus far, a careening mass of drunkenness packed in so tight that police began to worry about rioting.

And so a fully staffed Manhattan Beach police force – 64 officers on duty throughout the city, including 40 at the tournament complete with a highly visible “jail van” parked above the pier – and 60 security guards who checked every single person who entered the event for stashed alcohol sent a clear message that this year would be different.

“We need to say the party is over when it comes to alcohol on our beaches,” Mayor Ward said at the City Council meeting in May when this plan was put in place.

Other measures were also taken: no amplified music and no “props” (one women’s “Cougar” team, made up of mostly middle-aged-women, were not allowed to bring in large hand fans with which young men were going to cool them throughout the day). Every team had been required to register locally, in person, rather than online from anywhere. Team fees also doubled from $600 a year ago to $1,200 this year.

The idea was to take the event back to its local roots, rather than the partying destination it had become. If the Six Man could not be controlled, then quite likely a beloved local tradition that had persisted for half a century would end with this year’s tournament.

The question that hung in the air going into Saturday was whether or not the Six Man would still be a party.

“Not really,” said Chris Pettit, and Manhattan Beach resident and Six Man party veteran. “It’s not. It’s a totally different vibe…..There’ll be less and less people from here on out. They’ll see, ‘Oh man, I can’t bring my twelver to the beach.’ And they are going to be over it. I mean, at some point, this is what has got to happen.”

“I beg to differ,” said Ben Michaels, a member of the Viking team from Malibu. “The Viking helmet on my head says otherwise. You know, we have a good time.”

Most agreed that something needed to be done after last year’s event.

“Last year was probably the worst Six Man I have ever experienced,” said Vicky Farmer, a member of A Forty team. “But I think I was part of that – I don’t really remember much past the first couple of games. But apparently I was on fire, so it was good times.”

Teams caught smuggling alcohol faced a $600 fine, forfeiture and a five year ban. Such threats didn’t deter everybody. Vodka was the drink of choice this year. The methods used – according to several anonymous sources – included cases of water with the inside bottles filled with vodka or sealed water bottles injected with vodka via syringe. Gatorade was the generally preferred mixer.

According to police, a little over 30 arrests were made, all alcohol related. In recent years, the average number of arrests was between six and ten.

“There were still people passing out all over the Strand,” said Lauren Fendrick, an AVP player who was at the tournament as a spectator. “I think the people who wanted to get wasted are probably going to the bars.”

After midday Saturday, the crowd on the beach thinned considerably. A change in team tent policy – a restriction that allowed only a single row, rather than double rows of tents allowed in previous years – made the games more spectator accessible and gave players players more space to operate.

“This year, with all the changes, we achieved exactly what we wanted,” said Manhattan Beach Police Chief Rod Uyeda. “We had more space and clearly less alcohol, although some people did smuggle some beyond the checkpoints.”

“The costumes were still outlandish, and you could get right up in to the action,” Ward said. “It was much more comfortable this year.”

Eric Fonoimoana, a former Olympic gold medalist and AVP player who played with several of his old Mira Costa buddies on the 12th Street team, said that overall the city’s tamping down of the Six Man was successful. But he thought some measures – such as the lack of music – were unnecessary. And he said that staffing could have been reduced drastically on Sunday to reduce costs.

“It definitely was more mellow,” he said. “I think they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish…It was a little overkill, though. It was also a bit of a waste of money.”

Andrew Fuller, a 6-foot-10 AVP player, was dressed in a very large bear outfit (made by his mother for a Halloween past) as he starred for team Kinda Good/Fresh Brothers. “I’m shedding pounds right now,” he said.

Fuller said the playing environment was much improved from last year.

“I kind of like it more – it’s less chaos, especially for people here for the volleyball,” Fuller said. “I think it’s way better. I like the crackdown. It’s like there are less idiots running around.”

David McKenzie, an AVP player donned in the Team Magnum regalia, said the rule changes made Saturday a less fun day.

“It was kind of a funky vibe,” he said. “Lots of fights, maybe because people were more sober. It wasn’t very cool. It was dark.”

The council had briefly considered banning costumes during its deliberations earlier in the year. Costumes have factored strongly into the tournament’s popularity. According to city figures, there were 12,000 attendees in 2002, the year before, players and spectators began wearing costumes. By 2004, there were 20,000 people, a number that would triple over the next five years as word of the party spread throughout the Internet.

But the costumes – ranging from caped super heroes to transvestites, nurses, and Playboy playmates – proved key to keeping some semblance of the party alive. Probably no team used costumes to greater effect than the Grand Old Cougars, a surprisingly athletic men’s team adorned in antique dresses, jewelry, and 1930s style Flapper hats.

“Ever since the ‘30s we’ve been playing,” said Ben, who declined to give his last name. “And it’s still a party, but we hate to play against a team in matching board shorts. We like to see other teams dress up and stuff. We are rocking it.”

Ben had felt nipples protruding beneath a faded Hooter’s halter top.

“Retired in ’68, Hooter’s waitress,” he said. “Used to be hot. Gravity and time – it’ll catch up to you, too.”

His teammate, Ian Burnham, said neither time nor gravity had caught up with the Six Man yet. Burnham, a tall bald man with a large bear tattoo on his left arm, wore a frilly dress, pearls, lipstick, and rested on a walker as he assessed the situation.

“I was a little concerned, with all the rumors around about what the City Council is doing,” he said. “But you can’t keep it down. It’s like my 13th year, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them stop me.”  ER


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