SAN DIEGO -- Team USA Beach Handball will compete against the top countries in the world, but for the first time on American soil starting Thursday at the Pan American Beach Handball Championships in Oceanside.
The international sport started in the United States less than 20 years ago and continues to gain more momentum.
"It's cool cause there's a combination of just about every American sport," said Drew Donlin, a leftback and pivot for Team USA Men's Beach Handball. "Basketball, football, soccer, all of it and then bringing it all on the beach is just a blast."
Think of the game as the "sand" version of the Olympic sport of Team Handball. Teams of four play two 10 minute sets with no physical contact.
"The defense is similar to beach volleyball or basketball," said Marilyn Elder, a defensive specialist for Team USA Women's Beach Handball. "You don't want to touch your opponent, there's no aggressive tackling but you're in their space and just trying to intercept or impede their motions."
Twelve men's teams and eight women's teams representing countries like the U.S., Brazil and Argentina will compete in the Pan American Championships hoping to qualify for a spot in the World Beach Handball Championships in July. At this elite level, it also takes more to score a goal than just putting the ball in the net.
"...either through alley-oops or you throw the ball in the air and one of your teammates catches it or you have to spin and do a complete 360 to score two points," said Darryl Yarbrough, an Assistant Coach with Team USA Women's eam. "This is a big time national program. This is an elite sport for elite athletes and it's a fun sport that people are really gonna want to get involved with. I mean we have so much sand, beach real estate, it makes so much sense that it's born here and really comes together here in San Diego and southern California."
The USA men's team comes in as the defending Pan American champion while the U.S. women's team will make its debut.
"You have a dream, right, and you work everyday towards that dream," said Elder. "You wake up everyday thinking about it, you go to sleep thinking about it and before you know it, six years go by and you're here."
The tournament runs through Sunday at Oceanside Harbor.