When ticking off regrets, people often list things like never learning to play an instrument or becoming fluent in a second language. I’m OK just listening to music and using Google Translate. My big regret is not playing more beach volleyball.
Now I’ve got no excuse if I want to go to the grave sand covered and complete: Natick’s new Beach House at 18 Tech Circle offers four indoor beach volleyball courts that can be rented by groups and that will be available for various league, clinic, and other play as well.
I got a sneak peek in early February, with temperatures outside near single digits, during a socially-distanced friends-and-family soft opening. Owner Steve Mugford, literally the first new person I’ve met mask-to-mask and elbow-to-elbow since the pandemic sent me into shut-in mode, gave me a tour of the venue, starting up high on the mezzanine overlooking the courts.
Mugford explained that this facility, which he built from the ground up, has been in the works since 2017. He and his team needed to navigate the town’s zoning and variance gauntlet and assure neighbors that the business would be a good fit (turns out they much preferred it to an earlier proposal for a car-related business).
Mugford, who used to live out this way but now resides in Cambridge, had actually been looking for something closer to home, such as an old warehouse. But properties were hard to find when he was first looking, and the Natick site became attractive.
It’s unfortunate that Beach House got its go-ahead during the pandemic, and while it is initially opening under state-issued capacity restrictions, Mugford looks forward to a grand opening in the fall once various kinks are worked out. He doesn’t really want to make a splash with an indoor beach during the summer.
Natick beach club
Memorial Beach at Dug Pond this is not. For one thing, it has no water to swim in. It’s all about the sand and space—90×160 feet of court space with a 30-foot high ceiling. That’s roomy enough for four full volleyball courts, or even regulation FIFA beach soccer. Ample lighting is provided via windows and LEDs.
The sand, from a quarry in New Hampshire, is a cushiony 18 inches deep and was delivered via dozens of dump truckloads last year.
You might not think too much of the sand you’ve trudged through, but Mugford says he now knows way more about sand than he ever thought he would. The Beach House sand simulates that from Hermosa Beach in California, which is known for its beach volleyball scene. The sub-angular, or rounded, sand used at the facility resists compacting but provides good traction for making spectacular leaping plays.
The sand is treated with a special oil, too, so that it doesn’t get dusty. Lessons learned about keeping the dust down from indoor equestrian and monster truck events has been applied at Beach House. A fancy HVAC system keeps the air flowing and clean, too.
I picked up a handful and let it slip through my fingers. It’s got a silky feel and it didn’t wind up on my steering wheel on the drive home.
It’s also warm. That’s thanks to radiant heating that snakes below the surface via 5 miles of heating coils configured in 77 loops. “I’m really proud of this set-up,” says Mugford, who discovered beach volleyball in his younger days while training in Florida as a competitive swimmer.
He enjoyed beach volleyball so much though that he later moved to California after college so that he could play as much as possible, washing dishes to make ends meet.
With that somewhat out of his system he embarked on a 20-year-plus career at Capital One, leading marketing for the company before most of us probably heard of it.
But Mugford has never shaken beach volleyball from his system. He and friends annually trekked to Rhode Island for a volleyball-palooza outing, and homage is paid to that with an “Entering Palooza Beach” sign adorning one the Beach House walls along with signs for Hermosa, Manhattan, and Miami Beach (there’s no such thing as Palooza Beach in R.I.).
And now Mugford’s got beach volleyball courts of his own closer to home. Such facilities are rare in the area, but fairly common in countries like Sweden and the Netherlands, he says.
More than volleyball
Natick’s Beach House could potentially cater to customers who would use it for anything they might do at the beach, including let their kids just run around, make sand castles, etc. Cornhole and other games for bigger kids are also available.
“I want it to be a great community resource,” says Mugford, whose other interests include supporting charter school development. “I’m thinking of using it for whatever you’d use a beach for.”
The Beach House will also be used for cross training hardcourt volleyball players and other athletes. Former longtime Boston Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo will run the gym at the Beach House, where the sand will play a key role in fitness training.
As Mugford says: “Sand’s good for you.”
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