This story first aired on December 14, 2015.
These days, if you’re sitting on a South Florida beach and someone shouts, “Shark attack!” it’s probably got nothing to do with “Jaws.” Instead, it’s all about feet.
Namely, a sport called footvolley.
Footvolley is a blend of soccer and beach volleyball that was invented a half century ago in Brazil – a country obsessed with both soccer and the beach. It’s now catching on in the U.S. – especially in South Florida communities like Deerfield Beach, where a Pro Footvolley Tour international tournament was held last month.
Brazilian-born players might have been the stars of the event, but as the day wore on you heard less Portuguese in the stands and more English. Americans dropped by from the beach and nearby resort hotels – drawn by a captivating display of athletic skills most had never seen before.
“That was awesome,” said Alisa Hadley of Georgia. “Y’know, how they can move and then jump up in the air and kick it like that. I think it’s great – I’ve already put it on Facebook.”
Hadley also observed how well conditioned the players were.
“The guys are sure good-lookin’, I’ll tell you that.”
One of those guys is Sergio Menezes, playing for the U.S. team. Menezes is a Brazilian-American from Miami Beach, and he’s the Pro Footvolley Tour’s president.
“It combines the world’s most popular two sports, basically – soccer and volleyball,” says Menezes. “Half the planet plays those sports. And then you add them together and it’s better than each one.”
Many will debate that claim – but the game is certifiably cool.
Like beach volleyball, footvolley has two players on each team and it takes 21 points to win a game. But like soccer, you can’t use your hands.
To serve the ball, you tee it up on a mound of sand and kick it over the net. The opposing team gets three touches of the ball before returning it – and that’s when the awesome part starts.
The players dig, pass and set the ball with their feet, thighs, shoulders, chests and heads. Sometimes they look more like circus performers than athletes.
“Controlling the ball is harder than in soccer or volleyball,” says player Luiza Alves, 19, a Rio de Janeiro native studying sports business at Jacksonville University. “But more fun.”
And if the ball is set just right above the net, you get to see footvolley’s marquee attraction:
The "shark attack."
In a shark attack, players spike the ball over the net using their feet.
That means getting your toes 6-feet-8-inches high in the air. Slamming the ball back at your opponent. And then landing in the sand below without breaking a limb. Which is why, if your shark attack scores, it’s worth two points instead of one.
“It’s hard man – you can screw up your back if you don’t time it right and land with your hands in the sand,” says Brazilian-American footvolley veteran Adriano Boente.
Boente is a shark attack master – or make that “Monster,” his footvolley nickname. A Deerfield Beach construction contractor, he’s built like a bulldog and smiles like a calendar fireman – the kind of crowd-pleaser obscure sports need to catch fire.
“I think one day the footvolley explode in America,” he insists. “I really think so.”
The Pro Footvolley Tour now has up to 50 teams. It’s also signed up A-list sponsors like Bud Light and broadcasters like the Spanish-language Univision network – as well as more than a dozen regional sports networks.
But to really take off in the U.S., it’s counting on Brazil: Menezes and other footvolley enthusiasts are lobbying hard to get footvolley included as an exhibition sport at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think it will be a huge legitimizing factor,” says Menezes.
If it happens, it will help footvolley attract more talented athletes – just as Olympics exposure spawned beach volleyball stars like Misty May and Kerri Walsh.
“What we need now are more of the athletes that are really gonna wake up and train every day,” says Menezes.
Footvolley is converting good soccer players like Leah Morales, a former soccer pro in Europe who traveled all the way from her home in Santa Cruz, Calif., to play in the Deerfield Beach footvolley tournament.
“I’m 28 years old,” says Morales. “It’s not like I’m old, but playing 90-minute soccer games on turf is hard on your body. So footvolley, I can play all day long, hang out on the beach. It’s the best thing ever.”
It’s also attracting beach volleyball players like Paul Lauginiger of Daytona Beach.
“I’m impressed by the skill level,” says Lauginiger. “This should be an Olympic sport. But Florida? This sport is perfect for Florida.”
Someday it might even be monster.
The next Pro Footvolley Tour event in South Florida is the Pompano Beach Invitational, Jan. 15-17.