Rio mystery solved: Why doesn't beach volleyball sand stick to players?

Jay Busbee
Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA) of USA and Mariafe Artacho (AUS) of Australia compete. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA) of USA and Mariafe Artacho (AUS) of Australia compete. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Welcome to Olympic Mysteries Solved, where we answer your most pressing questions from this year’s Rio Olympic Games. Seen something you don’t understand? Drop us a line and we may solve your mystery in a future installment. Today: sand!

When you’re watching beach volleyball at Rio, you’re probably admiring the athleticism, the players, the setting, the speed. And you’re probably wondering, how the heck are these people not covered in sand?

If you’ve ever spent more than eight seconds at a beach, you know the dilemma: sand gets everywhere. Your drink, your book, your phone, your car, and anywhere and everywhere you can imagine on your body. And the moment you start sweating, you might as well be coated in glue; by the end of a day at the beach, you’re more sand than flesh. So why don’t the greatest beach volleyball athletes in the world get completely covered in sand?

Simple: beach volleyball players are bred in a laboratory and have frictionless skin. No, wait that’s not it : they’re just playing on special sand. The International Beach Volleyball Federation (FIVB) has laid out extensive, if not necessarily precise, regulations for the type of sand acceptable in beach volleyball competition:

The surface must be composed of levelled sand, as flat and uniform as possible, free of rocks, shells and anything else which can represent risks of cuts or injuries to the players.
For FIVB, World and Official Competitions, the sand must be at least 40 cm deep and composed of fine loosely compacted grains.
The playing surface must not present any danger of injury to the players.
For FIVB, World and Official Competitions, the sand should also be sifted to an acceptable size, not too coarse, and free of stones and dangerous particles. It should not be too fine to cause dust and stick to the skin.

So there you go. Sand has to be fine but not too fine, sifted but not flour-sifted, soft but not baby-powder soft. In other words: sand from the kind of beaches where folks like you and me aren’t welcome. At least we can enjoy the Olympics together, yes?

Previously solved Rio mysteries:
What are those circular marks on Michael Phelps’ back?
Why do swimmers wear two caps?
Why is Rio’s Olympic cauldron so tiny?

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.