Split's Bačvice beach is considered to be the true home of the game
Croatia Beaches And The Art of Picigin
Follow the game of Picigin and it will take you to some of Croatia's best sandy beaches. As much an art form as a sport, it's something like volleyball on water, but with a much smaller ball, and, at its best, in the style of a football player taking a spectacular professional dive. Though there's much rivalry between areas, Split's Bačvice beach is considered to be the true home of the game which is ideally played with five players and a "bald" tennis ball.
The object of Picigin is to keep the ball out of the water for as long as possible whilst batting it between players with the palm of either hand. Traditionally a non competitive sport, 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, as no doubt will plying them with a few drinks beforehand.
Bačvice makes a perfect Picigin stadium for two main reasons. Firstly its sandy, gently sloping, shallow beach allows optimum acrobatic performance whilst 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's lined with a number of restaurants and bars so that players can strut their stuff to a relaxed and appreciative audience. Other beaches that also fit the bill include Sunj on Lopud island near Dubrovnik, Medulin, on the tip of the Istrian peninsula, Baška on the island of Krk and the banks of the Drava river in inland Osijek.
Non competitive it may be in its origins but Picigin is being taken increasingly seriously by its aficionados. Associations and competitions are growing up around it and the di(v)e hards insist on playing on New Year's day. You can recognise seasoned and serious players off season by a distinctive limp caused by repeated big toe injuries and, in the summer, by the figure hugging speedos that are fast becoming the trademark uniform of the mostly young alpha males that are its chief exponents.