The Croatian game of picigin takes place at some of the best sandy beaches in Dalmatia. More art form than sport, it's like volleyball in the shallows, but with a much smaller ball. At its best, it is performed in the style of a footballer taking a swan dive in the fatal rectangle. Though there's much rivalry between areas, Split's city beach of Bačvice is considered the true home of the game, where you can see picigin being played all summer long.
Picigin is ideally played with five players and a small rubber ball, balun, usually just a tennis ball shorn of its fur. The object is to keep the ball out of the water for as long as possible while batting it between players with the palm of either hand. Traditionally a non-competitive sport, picigin reveals that the artistry of the players is as important as keeping the ball dry. Hence a dazzling leap or dive to keep the balun on its journey will score well with the judges, generally a gaggle of teenage girls. Players tend to be testorone-charged early shavers out to impress. No more peacock sport was ever invented, surfing included.
Bačvice makes a perfect picigin pitch for two main reasons. First, its sandy, gently sloping, shallow beach allows optimum acrobatic performance while minimising the risk of injury: ideally, for speed and a cushioned fall, the water should be just above the ankles and well below the knees. Just as importantly, it is lined with beachside venues such as Zbirac and Tropic Club Equador, where players can strut their stuff to a relaxed and appreciative audience.