Beach Volleyball: Ex-Silver Ferns star Anna Harrison ditches bikini to help normalise alternatives

Anna Harrison.
Anna Harrison. Photo credit: Photosport

By Bridget Tunnicliffe

Former Silver Fern and international beach volleyballer Anna Harrison is ditching the bikini on the New Zealand beach tour this summer to make not wearing one more 'normal'.

When the 39-year-old started playing beach volleyball way back in 2000 it was mandatory, but players now have a choice.

In fact they've had a choice since 2012 when the International Volleyball Federation relaxed its competition rules so female competitors were permitted to wear shorts and sleeved tops.

The international body recognised the uniform needed to be more flexible out of respect for the cultural beliefs of some participating countries.

But while the days of mandatory bikinis are over, the overwhelming majority still wear them.

So when the New Zealand beach tour starts in Nelson this weekend Harrison and her 17-year-old playing partner won't be wearing bikinis to emphasise the sport doesn't have to be played in one.

Harrison is teaming up with Holly Isherwood this summer.

"I'm so lucky to get her because she's a great wee back court player and it's kind of quite fitting and lucky that she was on board with not wearing a bikini," Harrison said.

Anna Harrison in action for the Silver Ferns.
Anna Harrison in action for the Silver Ferns. Photo credit: Photosport

"She seems quite comfortable wearing both but I can remember as a 17-year-old not being keen.

"I've been through all the phases - from that insecure teenager, through my elite career and now I'm getting older it's quite nice to be able to share the message with Holly."

Harrison played on the New Zealand beach tour between 2000 and 2010; the last three seasons were also spent on the international circuit.

She left the sport in 2010 to make a return to the Silver Ferns. The mother of three retired from domestic netball last year after a remarkable comeback for the Stars in the ANZ Premiership.

Harrison returned to the New Zealand beach volleyball tour a couple of summers ago but said not much had changed when it came to the uniform because it was so embedded.

"For me it's instilled that you play in a bikini."

Harrison was a fresh faced 17-year-old when asked if she wanted to play beach volleyball. She was keen but there was no way she wanted to wear a bikini.

"But I had to wear one, I wasn't about to say 'I don't want to' because you would be fighting everybody.

"There was an exception you could wear the smaller bike pants, but you became the minority. The big guns were wearing bikinis and if you weren't wearing a bikini you didn't feel like you were in it, you were sort of the odd one out back then so it quickly became something that you adopted.

"There were days where you just really wished you didn't have to I think any woman can relate to that."

Anna Harrison.
Anna Harrison. Photo credit: Photosport

Harrison said the rules were changed to make the sport more inclusive but still thinks there are budding beach volleyballers out there who could be deterred when all they see is players wearing bikinis.

"Most grow up playing indoor volleyball at school, then someone invites you to play beach and they might be like 'nah I don't want to have to wear that stuff' - well you don't and that's kind of the message that I want to send.

"Plus, imagine with social media now and the pressure that young people might feel."

Players have always been able to wear long tights on the World Tour when it gets under a certain temperature.

Harrison said there had been international player led meetings over the years to discuss the uniform and the players still choose bikinis as the preferred uniform.

"So it's saying something that players are putting their hand up and saying they want to play in that. It's hard to change something that's been around forever and it's not something we're looking to do, it's just letting people know that you don't have to.

"It's important that we're not saying you shouldn't because it's really contradictory to say we shouldn't be wearing bikinis and then in the same breath say you should be able to wear whatever you want so it's about having the freedom to choose."

Harrison would love to see more athletes at the elite level play in a variety of attire so that it became more normal.

Harrison said the argument that the uniform had to be tight all over wasn't a great one because the men played in board shorts and singlets.

She pitched her idea to New Zealand women's active wear company Sweat Republic, who have come up with some kit.

Harrison, who normally gravitates towards darker clothing, said it would be little bit out of her comfort zone.

"I thought if I'm going to try and do this message let's do it in a way that people will notice that you're not wearing a bikini and it's not just black bike pants and a black singlet.

"We'll be wearing bike shorts, regular shorts, and singlets, lots of colour and patterned stuff and hopefully people will be like 'oh yeah that's right we can wear some fun stuff' instead of just the standard bikini.

"The tournament crop top will be worn on the centre court because it has numbers on it for score sheets and also sponsors so there's an element of not being able to get around the crop part but majority of time we'll be wearing stuff that is not a bikini."