Isabella Thayer-Persaud loves to play beach volleyball. She moved to Florida five years ago in part for its many beaches and opportunities to play her sport.
Since the pandemic, she and her husband, Prem Persaud, have found themselves in a new position: hosting volleyball tournaments across the state as owners of the Sunshine State Outdoor Volleyball Association. The organization's latest two-day tournament attracted a variety of athletes from beginners to Olympic-level playing on Siesta Key from July 9-10.
"(These tournaments) are awesome," Thayer-Persaud said. "I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."
The association has been operating in Florida since 2004, but Persaud and Thayer-Persaud took over hosting the tournaments shortly before the pandemic and now host around two a month. The Siesta Key stop was originally scheduled for June — as its typically held — but was moved to July when tropical weather threatened.
Many of the SSOVA's tournaments are a single day, but the Siesta Key spot brings in more pro players with money prizes for top winners.
Kitana Lim, a 22-year-old Palm Harbor resident playing in the Pro category, has been playing beach volleyball for four years. She started playing indoor volleyball but decided to make a change and hasn't looked back.
"Indoor is six on six with your position, but with beach volleyball you have to be diverse and be able to do everything," she said. "You also have to be able to play (into) the wind when you're outdoors and use different strategies."
Players split their various categories and squared off throughout the day. A DJ kept the music going — something that Lim said was a must to keep players energized — and Thayer-Persaud was happy with the turnout.
She started playing indoor volleyball throughout her life but felt burnt out and eventually transitioned to beach volleyball. Watching the many athletes play in the sand and enjoy their time in the sun was a good reminder for why she did.
"This is looser — we're here to be competitive, but we're still here on the beach," Thayer-Persaud said. "It's chill. The vibe is just better."