Over the Line Tournament, a 70-year tradition, returns to Fiesta Island for two weekends in July
Event is organized by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club
The Over the Line Tournament on Fiesta Island, San Diego’s “Mardi Gras on the Beach,” is gearing up for its 70th annual iteration after a number of setbacks and complications over recent years.
Hosted by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC), the event is a BYOB (bring your own beer) sporting exhibition that draws athletes and spectators from around the world in a two-weekend romp. A legacy that has lasted longer than the Padres have been a franchise and landed recognition in the city’s charter, organizers are trying to fine-tune their approach in order to maintain its glory.
Tom Doyle, the club’s marketing chair, says the world championship tournament is focused on fun for all who attend.
“We try to foster the environment that it’s a fun sport to play and it’s a great time to be had,” Doyle said. “Whether you’re coming out to play or to watch and hang out, you’re gonna have a great time no matter what.”
The event is hosted over two weekends, this year set for July 15-16 and July 22-23.
Free to attend, spectators are allowed to bring their own libations with only a few limitations. The group recites a “No B’s” rule as if it were gospel — no glass bottles, no bicycles, no bowsers (dogs), no babies (as the event is not child-friendly) and no battles or fighting.
The tournament is also known for its “very colorful” team names. It is tradition to have funny or provocative team names, according to organizers.
“Our event is one of the few events you can have during the summer moratorium from Memorial Day to Labor Day with special event permits to actually have booze out on the sand,” Doyle said. “We have bars you can go into and buy stuff, we’ve got places you can buy food, just come on and hang out with us. This event is more than just guys and girls playing OTL.”
Jeff Briggs, who joined OMBAC in the early 1990s and has since won seven Over the Line tournaments, says the sport is almost synonymous with the city’s identity.
“If you want to say ‘I’m from San Diego’ then you better know what Over the Line is,” Briggs boasts. “It’s like saying you’re from San Diego and you’ve never had a fish taco.”
Want to go?
70th annual OMBAC World Championship Over-the-Line Tournament
When: July 15-16 and July 22-23, play starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends sometime between 6 p.m. and sunset
Where: Fiesta Island, 1590 E. Mission Bay Drive in Mission Bay Park
Parking: A VIP parking pass next to the tournament playing area can be purchased online until 9 p.m. Thursday, July 13 or on-site for $40 cash. Parking hours are from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. No “in and out” privileges. Details at tinyurl.com/OTLparking23.
Cost: Free to watch
Good to know: No camping, barbecues, fires, animals or drones. Attendees should be 18 or older as the event is not child appropriate. Teams had to register in May.
Over the Line is an offshoot of baseball, played with a bat and a softball. Batters try to hit the ball over a line in the sand while fielders try to stop the ball from crossing that line.
Batters square up at the point of a triangle-shaped zone delineated with ropes in the sand, and attempt to hit a ball into the “fair” territory of an open-ended rectangle, also delineated with ropes. Balls hit before the line are considered “foul.”
The batter and pitcher play on the same team and play against a team of defenders. An “out” is counted against the batting team if the batter strikes, or if a defender catches the ball without it crossing into fair territory, or when a batter hits two fouls. A stopped ball is counted as an out.
After three hits that make it to fair territory, the batting team is awarded a point, and every subsequent hit following also counts as a point earned. Home runs are awarded if a ball lands past the fielder furthest from the line, without being touched. A home run resets the hit count to zero.
The July event started from an unassuming beginning in 1954, initially played on the beach as a means to pass the time while waiting for volleyball courts to become available. Recognizing the sport’s growing popularity, OMBAC’s founding members started the tournament with only eight teams. At its peak, the event hosted as many as 1,600 teams, and tens of thousands of spectators over a single weekend.
“They made their first courts with seaweed, and then they had their first world championship tournament with just eight teams,” Briggs recalls of the early OMBAC group. “By the time we got to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, we had at least 50,000 people in attendance, 80,000 in a weekend. It was huge.
“It’s spawned tournaments all over, they have a snowball OTL in Canada in February. I’ve played tournaments in Puerto Vallarta, Rosarito and Hawaii, tournaments in Nevada and Arizona,” Briggs said. “It’s really grown from this little game people would play waiting for volleyball to, at one time, having 1,600 teams play.”
As popular as the event was during its heyday, the group has recognized a decline in attendance and participation, something they attribute to a few local and global developments.
Pat Vaughan, Over the Line Tournament Chair and a 20-year OMBAC member, specifically cites a 2008 ban on alcohol on beaches, as well as the impact on socialization that was wrought by shelter-in-place mandates relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had the booze ban about 10 years ago, and we almost lost the tournament completely,” Vaughan recalls. “But we worked hard behind the scenes and got a special permit to carry on.
Doyle said the group was able to coordinate a special exception for the event with the office of then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer to be able to put on the event and allow alcohol on the sand.
“Slowly we built back up the reputation, but then we were hit with our first rain-out ever since I’ve been the chairman and then we had COVID,” Vaughan continues. “We’re trying to fight and keep our head above water.”
Another potential hindrance to the events draw is its infamous reputation from past decades.
“It was a lot more crazy back in the day — more nudity, more drunkenness,” Vaughan said. “We would get our hands slapped pretty regularly. We pulled back on that and probably pulled back a bit too much, so we’re trying to push back a bit more.”
An online clip from older news reports show event organizers in 1981 encouraging candidates for Ms. Emerson, a contest hosted at the tournament that selects a representative for the club that year, to remove their clothes as they pose for photographs. The current description of the Emerson contest on OMBAC’s website reads, “The Ms. Emerson contest is a legitimate contest and does not involve or tolerate any lewd or inappropriate behavior from contestants, staff or tournament attendees.”
That reputation is something that Doyle said the group is attempting to reconcile for today’s crowds.
“It’s not getting out of control and crazy like some of the videos you can see on YouTube from Channel 8 News going out in the ‘80s,” Doyle says. “We can’t revert back to those stories we hear about the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, but we want to do as much as we can to let people have fun.”
Another setback the group faced is the recent passing of one of its founding members, Mike Curren. Nicknamed the “godfather” of Over the Line, Curren was the tournament’s director for a number of years and is credited as an essential proponent of the event’s success.
“He was the lifeblood of the club and Over the Line for OMBAC,” Doyle said. “This is our first tournament since his passing, so we want to make sure it’s as good as a party to honor the man who made this possible. We want to honor Mike and all he did with this game and so we are trying to bring the fun back.” Doyle said.
This year’s tournament will feature shirts and fliers that pay homage to Curren’s legacy and memory. Doyle said organizers are expecting to host as many as 700 teams, which equates to roughly 2,500 players.
“We want this to be something that lasts for multiple generations,” Doyle said. “We’re at 700 or 800 teams, which is nice, but we’re trying to get back up to a thousand.”