With the possible exception of the long-running Over the Hill Soccer League, there are few sporting activities that showcase our local diversity quite like beach handball. Held at Revere Beach most Sundays, weather permitting, throughout the summer, the games boast players born in the United States, France, Brazil, Cape Verde, Germany, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere participating in a sport that is far more popular, and better understood, abroad.
“Handball is funny, because everyone says they’ve never really seen it,” said New Hampshire’s Chris Morgan, 29, a member of the US National Team. “Once you start talking about it, most people say, ‘Oh yeah, I played that in middle school.’
“Handball is the second-most played women’s sport in the world, and the third for men,’’ Morgan continued, “but Americans don’t know what it is.”
The traditional indoor game is challenging, requiring agility and stamina. That also applies to the beach version.
“For me, beach handball is the most exhausting and fun sport to play,” said Malden’s Binta Jau, a Cape Verde native. “It requires a lot of strength and mental skills.”
The Revere games are run by the Boston Team Handball Club, which has its roots in the global student body and staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Being from Europe, I started playing handball in first grade and have played ever since,” said Boris Kramer, an aeronautics and astronautics researcher at MIT living in Dorchester, who came here from Weiher, Germany. “In my town, you had the choice between soccer and handball, and I thought handball was way more fun and fast-paced.”
During the indoor season, from September to May, the club has separate men’s and women’s teams that play at Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury. After Memorial Day, the group heads to Revere Beach to hone their skills and keep fit.
“Trust me, running that fast in the sand for 10 minutes makes your heart work quite a lot,” said Marianne Acker, 26, a doctoral student at Woods Hole Research Center who hails from Fontenay-sous-Bois, France. “Scientifically speaking, I’m not sure if someone did a survey, but like any other sports activity, it can’t be bad for you.”
Team handball looks like a combination of several popular North American sports, including basketball, soccer, hockey, and volleyball. Several players refer to it as “water polo on land.” It features a ball, and the object of the game is to put that ball past a goalkeeper into a goal.
Much like beach soccer or beach volleyball, beach handball looks similar to its more formal, more competitive indoor cousin, but also has distinct differences. Each team has four players instead of seven, and the games are played on a smaller “court.” The ball doesn’t bounce in the sand, so dribbling is nonexistent, putting a premium on player movement, crisp passing, and creative shot-making.
“Beach handball for us is just a fun way to get our team to hang out together, enjoy the beach while staying sharp,” said Kramer. “The best part is the sand, believe it or not, as you can do trick shots and land on sand with no injuries, which is pretty hard in an indoor environment.”
Those trick shots — like shooting between your legs — are important, because goals scored with a higher degree of difficulty are weighted more favorably.
“The famous one is the 360 turn [shot],” said Jau. “When a team scores with a 360 goal, it’s given two points instead of one.”
With a bonus for high-scoring shots, “tactics change a lot, because you’re more focused on getting the two-point goals,” said Morgan. “So there’s a bit more side-to-side play and people jumping into the goalie zone. The beach is probably more fun to watch, as more spectacular plays happen per game.”
Beach handball also has less contact between players, making it ideal for coed competition. And the atmosphere is more relaxed.
“It’s more fun to play coed during beach handball season because it’s a way for the two teams to hang out and get to know each other better,” said Quincy’s Robin Chan, 40.
The USA Team Handball website calls beach handball the “new kid on the block.” The International Handball Federation officially recognized the game in 1994. The sport was featured in the 2013 World Games, and is being considered for the 2020 or 2024 Olympic Games.
Allston’s Lucie Fraichard, who learned team handball growing up in Moirans-en-Montagne, France, said the beach version offers a nice introduction to the indoor game.
“Beach handball is a great way to start playing handball if you’re a woman or a man,” said Fraichard, 31. “Without the contact, you can learn to pass, and have a better vision of the team strategy that leads to shooting and scoring.
Beach handball at Revere Beach starts June 3. Prospective players can find game updates on the club’s Facebook page .
The Revere games have featured players from their teens through their 50s, though the average age is mid- to late-20s. When they started up, said Jau, the group encountered considerable skepticism.
“As time passed and people weren’t so terrified with seeing people throwing themselves in the sand,’’ she said, “they actually started to play with us and really enjoyed it.”If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Allow at least a month’s advance notice.