Life & Style

‘Beach volleyball is more than the bikinis’

There’s more to women playing beach volleyball than bikinis, says player and commentator Alexa Chitra Strange

American volleyball player Alexa Chitra Strange picked beach volleyball for the beauty of the game. “There is something amazing about women playing a sport. It really isn’t just about the bikini,” she says. Alexa believes sport can change the way women are perceived all over the world. “Sports can actually get them to be a little less objectified.”

Alexa was in Kerala for the inaugural season of the Pro Volleyball League as a commentator. “I just want to tell the women, especially in India, that they can be professional athletes and educated women at the same time. The sky is the limit if they set their minds to it,” she says.

Born in California, Alexa’s father Greg is Caucasian and her mother, Tara, hails from Thiruvananthapuram. She led the All-Star exhibition game at the League and was the highest scorer. In the US, the 24-year-old is a two-time national champion and All-American in beach volleyball (one of the highest honours in college volleyball).

In an interview with MetroPlus, she talks about women and volleyball and her passion for the game.

Volleyball, especially beach volleyball, is big in the US, where as in India, the sport is only just catching on among women. How do you see this?

Women’s beach volleyball in Olympics is one of the highest watched sports. A lot of people probably say it is because of the bikinis. But in reality, sometimes the scanty bikinis get people curious, but what makes them stay and become lifelong fans and continue watching the game, is the sport. Beach volleyball is different from indoor volleyball, it looks slower for the naked eye, it is easier to follow.

With women’s volleyball, there is something very poetic and beautiful about watching a woman be able to dive and fling herself on the sand and because we don’t head it straight down like the men do, the rallies are much longer, which can be very exciting from a spectator’s point of view.

In India, the first step is men’s volleyball league. From focussing on that and allowing that to grow, bring life to the seeds of volleyball passion that is present in India from the legacy of Jimmy George and other great athletes. Then transition to women’s indoor volleyball.

What do you think about women and volleyball?

From the excitement that men’s volleyball brings, the next step will be curiosity about women’s volleyball and it will slowly and eventually overflow into beach volleyball.

From a cultural standpoint, you don’t need to go full bikinis immediately, you could start with leggings and sports bras. In a way, it is beautiful that athletics can de-sexualise the human body. The Olympics originally in Greece were done naked. Because it was all about the beauty of the human body and watching the muscles and the athletic capabilities of the human body. In a way, I think that beach volleyball can facilitate that sort of thinking eventually.

The whole concept of bikinis and spandex and volleyball, ironically, I think all these things have the capacity to sort of allow women to be less objectified. I’m not saying women are objectified in India alone. I mean all over the world. When you see a beautiful woman in her natural state doing something athletic, it becomes more than just looking at her for her looks. You learn to appreciate the other aspects of a woman.

What was it like doing commentary?

It was very similar to (the feeling) when you go in for a really big volleyball game. I have never done it before, the first time especially, I had so much adrenalin going. I was nervous. You’re live on air and if you make a mistake while you’re speaking there’s really no turning back. But having my mom sitting by me played a huge role in calming my nerves.

When you go into a stressful environment, you go into a fight or flight mode. Generally, when I get into that zone, I like putting that type of pressure on myself.

Overall, the experience was super rewarding. It made me believe that I can push myself to do anything if I just believe in myself.

Your thoughts on the Pro Volleyball League

It is an amazing opportunity for some extremely talented Indian athletes to be able to finally make a career out of volleyball. Right now, a lot of athletes have to have another job, in order to get income to sustain their passion as a volleyball player.

In the Pro Volleyball League, production is done as any other league in the world and it caters to the fans. It will set a precedent for other leagues to follow suit.

You wanted to come to India and play volleyball.

It is always great to win, but if you can do something meaningful while you’re playing your sport, that is more important to me. That’s why I’m motivated to play for India more than the United States. In 2024, I am going to do everything it takes to make it to the Olympics. If I can find an Indian partner, I would rather stay in India than go back to the US. I will have the opportunity to help change some small aspect of society potentially about women, to be able to inspire them to become sports people, to tell more women that there are opportunities in becoming a professional athlete. You can be a sports person and an educated woman. The sky is the limit if you set your mind to it.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 11:59:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/beach-voleyball-player-alexa-chitra-strange-on-women-and-volleyabll/article26590866.ece

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