As an engineer, I like to do a lot of research and comparison
shopping before I buy anything. Since this is a fairly common trait in
the profession, one might say that engineers make great consumer advocates--let
them do all the research, then just buy what they buy. In any case, here's
what one picky, anal-retentive engineer actually likes when it comes to
volleyball equipment. If you don't know where to start on a ball or net
purchase, here's your guide to the good stuff!
Remember, I am speaking only
as a player here and am relating my personal experience with
these items. None of this should be taken in any light other than that
by any organizations with which I am affiliated, regardless of sponsorships
held with these affiliated organizations. I only mention products I've
actually used myself. If I haven't had the inclination to purchase your
product on its own merit, or haven't received a sample to review myself,
you won't see it here. I will only recommend
a product that I have actually used, and actually like.
Ball--Tachikara SV-5W (approx. $42
US) or Mikasa VFC-200 or heck the Molten Pro/Soft
Touches are good too!
- Tachikara used to be the shizzle--the ball everyone
used. That's changed a lot since the USA Volleyball
contract was bought out by Molten, and Mikasa bought the
NCAA contract, and the international community started
going to a harder ball like the Mikasa. If you're a newer
player and want a ball that recreational players will feel
comfy with, get the Tachikara--no one except maybe higher
level men's or higher level younger players will turn their
nose up at it, because it's a very soft, consistent leather
ball. If you are a USA Volleyball club player, lean more
towards the Molten or Mikasa balls. As for the Tachikara, it does (at least used to) matter where the
Tachikara ball is made, so be sure to
ask/look before you buy.
The Japanese-made balls are the best because of the special leather
tanning process. Tachikara realized this and halted production of
standard SV-5W's in Japan, renamed the Japanese balls "SV-5W Gold,"
and jacked up the price $10. The Indonesian SV-5W's balls run a
close second. They reportedly use the same Japanese leather tanning
process, but there is a slight difference between the SV-5W and
The SV-5WH is just an SV-5W with the high-school stamp on it--even
though the Gold carries the NFSHSA stamp these days as well. All
are fine balls. If you can find a US-made SV-5W, avoid it! I'm not
sure they are made anymore, but the US-made balls I've seen have
been noticeably inferior. I'm not sure why.
Mikasa makes a fine indoor
ball as well. They have also been kind enough to sponsor the Great
Lakes Region of USA Volleyball, and I'd encourage you to give them
a try. The Mikasa VFC 200 ball is one of their best and is the official
ball of several collegiate conferences, and has the approval of
See if Volleyball Corner is currently running
any web specials on either of the balls mentioned above.
Someone kindly emailed me a link to Fairway Volleyball
which also seems to be doing some aggressive pricing on balls.
Ball, Leather -- Spalding TF18 Gold
the Wilson AVP Traditional ball (all around $65 US)
- The Spalding TF18 has been known by many names including
Top Flite, AVA Gold, was the official ball of the AVP tour until Wilson
bought the contract in the late 90's (sensing a theme here?). The
Top-Flite has long-been
revered as the only ball for the beach, however, there have been
some other respectable balls to come onto the scene in recent years.
Wilson AVP Traditional (formerly known as AVP Gold) is
of a similar, wonderful ilk, but don't get these all
leather balls wet! Now, the
new Wilson Official AVP ball with the yellow trim is the
ball of choice on the tour, but be warned it's very polarizing--it's
light and a lot of people really really hate it. However, they have
improved it since its first season, and it's really not that bad.
Best of all, you can get it wet and not be worried you're ruining
I have seen some lobsided balls slip out of both manufacturers'
factories, so be sure to give your ball a good spin to make sure
it's good before you misplace your receipt! If you have a defective
Top Flite, call Spalding's customer service number at 800.225.6601
for instructions on how to return it. I bought mine
at Spike Nashbar.
The Mikasa VLS200 is the
official ball of the FIVB international beach volleyball tour. Mikasa
is also a kind sponsor of the Great Lakes Region of USA Volleyball,
so be sure to give them a try.
Ball, All-Weather -- Spalding
Extreme (formerly Top-Flite TF-All Weather, approx $25 US),
or the Wilson Official AVP ball
- No synthetic leather ball feels more like a top-flite than....a
Top Flite. If there's any chance of rain, or a body of water nearby,
this is the ball of choice. It's also an extremely good value! This
ball has the raised hand-stitched seams of the leather Top-Flite,
in addition to similar weight and feel. Truth be told, I use this
ball more often than my AVA Gold since my sand league is played on
a court next to a pool. Unfortunately, this ball is no
I've also used the official Wilson AVP ball has really matured
into a great ball that happens to be all weather.
Net System -- Park and Sun Spectrum 2000 (approx
- Click here for an extensive review of
most popular net systems by Michael David Bertz and separately,
check out Tom Z's review
of the Cobra Net System which has some good painstaking Engineer
viewpoint on that excellent guy-line-free system.
I own the Park and Sun Spectrum 2000 or Spectrum Classic,
and itwill do you no wrong. Very quick to set up, seems durable,
Easy to take with you anywhere. The
Classic is a bit beefier than the 2000. Some say it's worth
the extra money, some disagree. Both are fine net systems.
Feb 1999 update: I've had the PS Spectrum for a while now,
and there are some things I should add to this recommendation.
do a lot
of beach playing, be aware that the Park & Sun may give you
trouble should you get sand in between the two pieces of the poles.
In storage, the 2-piece poles collapse and slide together such
that one sleeve is inside of the other. Add a little sand in there
you're collapsing the system, and you've got a recipe for welding
the sleeves together while your system sits in storage! My advice:
wipe down the poles _before_ disassembling the net system. Also,
those who have used the P&S Spectrum _heavily_ have told me
that the net tends to rip at the top corners under repeated tension.
Other systems that are bungee-based like the Centerline do not
have this vulnerability. More things to think about!
2004 update: I still have this net system and it won't die. If I had to replace it, I think I may just get another one!
Accessory--The Pocket Pump (approx $10 US)
How did I live without it? This tiny little pump is less than 6" long
and gives you instant gratification for correcting ball pressure.
I saw Nancy Reno using one at the Evian Austin Open in 1996 and I
just had to have it.
Air Pound It Mid (approx $75 US)
Click any image for
an enlarged view
Air Pound It - May 2000
Gel Alta Plus - April 2000
Air Execute - 1998
Air Bohemian Lite -1995
Air Digs - 1995
- Shoes are tough to keep up with. The darned manufacturers change stuff every year. That said, i tend to like most of what Nike does on the high end of their vball shoes. And frankly, I haven't (in 2004) purchased a pair in over 2 years.
the Nike Air Conquer II's are wonderful! It's their best
volleyball shoe since the Air Bohemian lite! Excellent cushioning,
outstanding lateral stability, excellent
traction, and the best looking volleyball shoe they've ever produced.
They also work well with ankle braces such as the Active Ankle. The
only negative thing I have to say about the Air Conquer II is that the
heel's curvature as viewed from above is too eliptical to
allow my custom orthodics to seat
all the way to the rear of the heel cup. If the heel radius were rounder
and less eliptical, the fit of the orthodic would be much better. If
you don't wear custom orthodics, you won't notice and won't care.
Shortly before I got the Air Conquer II's, I had replaced my aging Air
Execute mid's with the Air Pound
Its. Before the Executes, I was very happy with the Air
Air Digs. I was very pleased to find the Air Pound It to be reminiscent
of my old Air Bohos. A teammate who normally wears ASICs shoes tried
the Nikes at one practice and nearly didn't give them back! He felt
immediately at home in the Air Pound Its and was impressed with their
- The Air Pound It Mid is a mid-profile shoe, so it might not be the
best choice to be worn with an ankle brace, although the collar is
pliable enough to accomodate one in a pinch. Traction is excellent,
and these things are super light! I like them much better than the
ASICs Gel Alta Plus's which are also excellent shoes, but are quite
a bit heavier than the Nike Air Pound It's.
On the down side, the arch support in these Air Pound It's and
my former Air Executes is not as good as it was in the long-discontinued
Air Bohos or Air Digs. I also miss the prominent forefoot cushioning
that was in the Boho's and Digs, but I was certainly in the minority
in that view--most viewed the prominent forefoot padding bulge as
distracting. I would recommend the use of Spenco court/athletic
insoles with these if you are in need of a little more arch.
The Pound It's run even smaller in size than their predecessors.
I wear a 10.5 in Air Pound It's, but wore a 10 in Air Execute, Air
Boho, and Air Digs. The Air Pound It's lacing system makes them
look really slick, but they are a pain in the butt to lace up when
you first get them.
I've also tried the (original) Nike Air Conquer shoes--but
I did not like
them much at all. The insoles were extremely thin, there was very
little arch support, the collar of the shoe was too thick, and the
odd lace-integrated heel tensioning mechanism seemed like a recipe
for achilles tendonitis. I'm told the Air Conquer II is due out
in May of 2000, and should improve upon these aspects and make us
Air Bohemian Lite lovers a lot happier!
Order Place -- ????
- Volleyball Corner gets my current
vote for balls and shoe selection--they carry all the popular vb shoes
including Nike! I got a killer deal on some SV-5W's from them a few
months back, and they're currently running a great special on the
Mikasa VFC-200's. This is a small shop, and the folks who answer the
phones can give you decent advice and answer questions.
- Volleyhut.com is on my short list of places to shop too. Charlie Jackson is the owner, and Charlie is a prince of a guy, and a long time supporter of volleyball who put his money where his mouth was in making sure the women's pro beach folks had something to do for 2 years before the AVP got on board with adding the women to their tour. Prices and selection are excellent as well.
Comments? Suggestions? Indications that I'm full of it? Email me at tdh [at] vbref [dot] org
and be sure to mention this page in your subject. Note that this is not carte blanche
for any ole volleyball equipment reseller to tell me about their amazing low prices or ask
for a link here. If you want to get the word out about your store, please, get involved
with the volleyball online community as a helpful contributing poster, and put a link
to your store in your posting signature. People will patronize a store that has employees
who are helpful and friendly in the community. Don't spam!
- I used to love Spike Nashbar 1-800-WE SPIKE. Eric Nashbar,
however, sold Spike Nashbar to some Florida-based company in 1999.
Eric's company embraced the web early with an on-line catalog and
on-line ordering capability. Unfortunately they don't carry the Spalding
TF-All Weather or Nike Shoes. People had horrible experiences with
Spike Nashbar during the transition to Florida, but things have improved
since then. I placed some orders in early 2000 that arrived promptly.
The staff won't be able to field any questions or offer recommendations,
but the prices are still decent.
I used Nike Town in Portland (503-221-6453)
for my original Nike Air Bohos and Air Digs, and the TF-All Weather
can be found at many local sporting goods stores.