Beach volleyball started in Santa Monica, California in the 1920s. A decade later, beach volleyball began to appear in Europe. By the 1940s, doubles tournaments were being played on the beaches of Santa Monica for trophies. In the 1960s, an attempt to start a professional volleyball league was made in Santa Monica. It failed, but a professional tournament was held in France for 30,000 French Francs.
The first Manhattan Beach Open (Southern California) was held in 1960. It is considered the "Wimbledon of Beach Volleyball" -- the most prestigious tournament in the world. Karch Kiraly—arguably the greatest beach volleyball player of all time—said, "You talk to any player and if they were told they could only win one tournament in their whole career, everybody would choose it to be here in Manhattan. There's an extra fire among all the players." In the 1970s, a few professional tournaments in Santa Monica were sponsored by beer and cigarette companies.
While the history of beach volleyball is relatively lengthy, the sport (at the professional level) remained fairly obscure until the 1980s when beach volleyball experienced a surge in popularity. This resulted in the development of stars such as Karch Kiraly, Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos, Kerri Walsh, and Misty May-Treanor, who are now well known throughout the world.
For decades, the two nations which have dominated international beach volleyball are Brazil and the United States. Recently, Australia has emerged as a distant third superpower, and all three of these nations have reasonably well developed national touring systems which typically hold tournaments during the summer months. Several western European countries have developed a large and competitive following, as has China and a number of other countries around the world.