In Nags Head, a net gain for beach volleyball

By on May 20, 2023

Mark Welch’s campaign to help revive a once-popular OBX sport

A beach volleyball contest at Atlantis in the OBX sport’s heyday in the 80’s. (Photo courtesy of Bobby Sanders)

At its May 3 meeting, the Nags Head Board of Commissioners announced that the town would install two beach volleyball courts at Satterfield Landing, adjacent to the existing dog and recreation park. According to Town Manager Andy Garman, the two new public beach volleyball courts, along with a few new pickleball courts, should be ready by the fall.

That decision followed months of persistent efforts by Mark Welch, a local business owner and beach volleyball coach who has been pushing to address the lack of practice spaces for young beach volleyball players in a community that once had a proud tradition with the sport.

“We have a hundred-mile stretch of beach, and we have one beach volleyball court,” Welch said, noting that such scarcity is very rare for a beach community, where you can usually find courts stretched along the sand.

After playing beach volleyball on the Outer Banks and competing in tournaments across the country for the last 40 years, Welch held two clinics at Jarvisburg Elementary and the Dare County Recreation Center last winter. Each clinic had more than 50 kids sign up. After that, he said, parents began approaching Welch, expressing their kids’ desire to continue learning the sport after not making their school volleyball teams. The big problem was a lack of facilities.

In the public comment period at the April 5 Nags Head Board of Commissioners meeting, Welch spoke to that issue.

“If kids go play basketball and they don’t make the team, they have plenty of areas to go play basketball—at the rec centers, outside, [the] same with soccer, same with football, same with baseball,” he stated. “There are no public places for the tourists to play or people to play beach volleyball besides Bonnett Street, and unfortunately that’s built into the side of a hill.”

Welch also cited the absence of a facility capable of hosting games for high school club teams. Although Dare County’s high schools have beach volleyball club teams, they lack a suitable venue for hosting tournaments. While the schools have small courts, they are only enough for one game at a time, and tournaments require a minimum of two courts. It is girls who make up the roster of the high school club beach volleyball teams and local traveling squads, but Welch hopes boys will also play at the new public courts.

Despite the lack of courts now, back in the late 80s and early 90s, beach volleyball was in its heyday – an integral part of the Outer Banks social and sports landscape. There was the restaurant league at the historic Atlantis, and teams from classic restaurants like Owens and A Restaurant by George, and even the crabbers of Wanchese, would battle it out on the courts and spend the rest of the night socializing.

There were the Sunday tournaments at the Atlantis, which drew crowds from all over the East Coast to play and watch. There were various other tournaments over the years as well, including the classic Pebble Beach Motel in Nags Head. There was even talk at the time of an Outer Banks Volleyball Association being formed with businesses across the Outer Banks holding organized tournaments throughout the summer.

“It was just the camaraderie, you know, the competition was good, but then it was…people in their 20s and 30s and you get together after and it’s just a really a very healthy outdoor activity. It was a really good vibe,” said Welch. “And then, it kind of just fell off.”

The only remnant from that time is the volleyball court that still stands in the back yard of Welch’s brother’s restaurant, Tortugas’ Lie. Welch and his brother Richard both fell in love with the sport and competed together when they moved to the Outer Banks in the 70s. They still hold all kinds of annual tournaments with participants who come from all over the country. They’ve even had a few beach volleyball Olympians grace their court.

Last fall, Welch found out that the local traveling girls beach volleyball team needed a place to practice. But Tortugas’ Lie didn’t have the proper equipment or netting to host them. He started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a new netting system at that site. He raised $4,000 in eight hours, and most of the donations were from the loyal tourists who have come to see the courts at Tortugas’ as an integral part of their vacations.

Welch is also planning to start an event each Sunday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. for the high school girls’ clubs where participants will get to play a Queen of the Court Competition as a way for the girls to compete against each other and improve their skills. Middle schools will either be included in the event or they will hold a separate training for them. Welch also recently donated a professional netting system for the Manteo club’s court, with his coaching company Coastal Volleyball and Hatchell Concrete donating the sand.

Bob Sanders, Richard Welch’s co-owner at Tortugas’ Lie is one of the Nags Head Commissioners who approved the new courts at the Satterfield Park. Welch has been working closely with Town Manager Garman to help them figure out the logistics. He even volunteered to install the nets himself.

“Mark was the person who brought this forward to us. He put us in touch with others who are interested in the sport and explained that several of the Dare County schools have beach volleyball teams. He also has expertise in court design and helped us gather cost information. It is certainly reasonable from a cost perspective,” said Garman. “I guess you could say Mark’s request set this plan in motion.”

As for Welch’s motivation, he said simply that, “I just think it’s cool seeing girls out there playing a sport that I’ve loved and got a lot out of it. I mean, it’s just a really great sport.”



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  • Steven

    Be honest, it’s ladies volleyball we want to see..

    Sunday, May 21 @ 6:06 am
  • surf123

    The tourism board should be paying for this. No matter though as it is a great addition of another recreational activity.

    Sunday, May 21 @ 9:54 am
  • Travis

    Tortuga’s has been really great about keeping and maintaining their courts. One of the few places to play on the beach, and that’s a shame. I’d guess most of the accesses are generally too small to have volleyball courts. And I agree with Surf123…this is something the tourist board should be investing in.

    Sunday, May 21 @ 9:35 pm
  • Justin

    Maybe while they’re installing this sand pile they’ll notice the soccer fields(aka cow pasture) that we give our youth to play on. We need atleast 10 new soccer fields but let’s add a sand pit. Smh Plenty of sand to play in across the highway.

    Thursday, May 25 @ 5:55 am
  • Will

    Could the town look into expanding parking at the Satterfield complex and group that effort into the volleyball court development? People are already parking on the street to attend events at the complex.

    Friday, Jun 2 @ 7:46 am