VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The 29th North American Sand Soccer Championships have returned to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, taking over more than 30 blocks of beach and bringing upwards of 9,000 participants, 100,000 spectators and about $15 million to the city economy for the three-day event.

Friday was just the appetizer, as the main course really gets underway Saturday and continues through the weekend on 65 fields across the Oceanfront sand. It also comes on the back of last weekend’s Jackalope Festival, which brought more than 50,000 to the beach for the inaugural event.

This weekend’s event is soccer with a distinct twist.

Besides being on sand, it’s 5-on-5 soccer with three 12-minute periods.

As far as playing on sand versus grass, it’s a different game.

“(It’s) completely different than grass,” said sand soccer player Caeman Bay. “You gotta train. Running is one thing. You get to the sand and it’s like running through molasses. Trying to jump, trying to run, your legs get heavy so quick. That’s why you get constant subs every two or three minutes.”

U.S. National Sand Soccer Team coach Francis Farberoff, who coaches the elite in American sand soccer, describes what he looks for in a quality player on the surface.

“It’s different running on the sand than in grass,” Farberoff said. “You look for players that are athletic, that have size, technical ability, to lift the ball, play in the air, throw bikes. It’s fitness. You’ve got to be fit, fit and strong.”

The tournament also has a women’s division.

Erin Footland from Virginia Beach has played in every sand soccer tournament in Virginia Beach. Her team, SEVWSA, won the women’s U.S. Open pro division last year, defeating a team from California in penalty kicks, so Footland has seen it all at the sand soccer tournament since its beginning.

“I love it,” Footland said. “We come back every year – just the atmosphere, the energy that you get from the kids playing. Every field from 16th Street to 30th is filled with soccer players and soccer fans. It’s just the most unique soccer event around.”

Want to go?

The North American Sand Soccer Championships is free and takes place beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing through 11 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Fields are spread out on the Oceanfront sand from 15th Street to 34th Street, and there are food vendors as well as a beer tent. For more information, go to