In addition to towels and umbrellas, you’ll find another object on beaches: small, netted trampolines. They’re the equipment for roundnet, a volleyball-like sport where two teams of two players hit a rubber ball off a trampoline.
You probably know it as Spikeball. But that’s just the trademarked brand of equipment that was created in 1989. The sport is called roundnet, and it has grown from a recreational beach activity to a competitive game in NoVA.
“Our goal isn’t necessarily to grow [Spikeball]; it’s to grow and support our community. It’s connected, but not the same,” says Ben Dantowitz, the organizer for Greater Washington Roundnet.
Dantowitz began playing roundnet in 2015. He says he loved the sport’s 360-degree style of play. This allows people to play creatively, from behind-the-back passes to diving saves, he says.
Since 2018, Dantowitz has been part of a group of DC-area roundnet players, who would later be coined the Greater Washington Roundnet group. In December 2021, Dantowitz became the group’s “informal leader,” he says. He took over the Facebook page and Discord server, which is how players find each other and organize games.
“My role is to make sure I’m not letting anybody fall through the cracks and trying to get everybody into one group,” Dantowitz says.
This summer, Greater Washington Roundnet hosted a Thursday night league, which Dantowitz helped facilitate. He says 15 to 20 players of various skill levels attended weekly. His favorite part of these pick-up games is watching new players develop a passion for the sport as they learn and grow their confidence.
“Everyone started as an absolute beginner, myself included,” he says. “We keep that in mind and want to continue being welcoming to anybody who wants to go on that journey and improve.”
Dantowitz says he and other players are exploring the idea of creating a membership-based league. This would provide more structure for those who want a competitive atmosphere, he says.
FXA Sports, a NoVA adult athletics organization, has had a roundnet league since 2019. FXA Sports founder Jeremy Purcell says he started the league after seeing people play frequently at the beach. He says the roundnet league started with five to six teams and has reached as many as 10 teams in a single season.
“I used to play a lot of pickup sports back in the day, and it was hit or miss whether or not enough people would show up or what their skill levels were,” Purcell says.
Formal leagues could legitimize roundnet as a sport, Dantowitz says. But he says there’s a key balance to strike. With Greater Washington Roundnet, he wants to create a competitive atmosphere for experienced players, but he also wants to maintain a casual feel for newbies.
“Some people like [roundnet] because it’s exercise. Some people like it because it’s a competitive outlet. Some people like the social part of it. A lot of people get a combination of all those things from it,” Dantowitz says.
He says the social nature of roundnet draws people into the sport. Players are in close quarters, Dantowitz says. This means players can exchange conversation, high-fives, and friendly trash talk all match long, he says.
“Sometimes I can get a little too social. I’m a little bit of a chatterbox when I’m playing casual pick-up,” Dantowitz admits, letting out a laugh.
To help expand the sport, Dantowitz also volunteers with the USA Roundnet board of directors. He focuses on youth development and standardization of roundnet events across the country.
Purcell says he hopes more coverage of roundnet on the national level will expose people in NoVA to the sport. In 2022, ESPN televised the Spikeball Championship.
“Once word gets out, I really think the sky’s the limit,” Purcell says.
Dantowitz says growing roundnet in NoVA will take time. But he says the camaraderie roundnet builds, both around and not around the trampoline, makes the effort worth it.
“My general perspective around roundnet is that it belongs to everybody. It’s our responsibility as a community to chip in and grow the sport,” Dantowitz says.
Feature image by Ben Dantowitz
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