Picigin: Made in Bačvice

Picigin: Made in Bačvice

Explore the world of a unique sport from Split

Bačvice beach is only a few minutes’ walk from the city centre and is a favourite place to relax during the day among people from Split and their guests. The sand, warm sea, and numerous bars that offer spectacular views of the nearby islands of Brač and Šolta are all great reasons to spend time in one of the most iconic places in Split.

 

In addition to being the perfect spot to enjoy your siesta (or fjaka, as it’s known locally) with a refreshing drink, Bačvice beach is also the legendary place of origin of picigin, a type of sport specific to Split. To put things into perspective, Bačvice beach is to picigin what Wimbledon is to tennis, or Wembley to football. The game was created after WWI, and became a favourite pastime in Split sometime around 1923. Today, it has found its way to various beaches worldwide. There is one clear rule, though – only the Bačvice picigin is the original, everything else is only a copy.

Aleksandar Gospić

After this crash course in history, it’s time you learned a bit more about actually playing the game “Split style”. The simplest way to describe it is like a version of water volleyball, only with no net or point system. However, people who are actually from Split will tell you that picigin is a way of life that combines elements of volleyball, tennis, acrobatics and the sun.

Although there are no strict rules on the number of players, having five players and a small ball (or balun) is the best way to play the game. The ball is usually a worn-out tennis ball, and the goal is to keep it from falling into the sea for as long as possible. If you happen to see experienced picigin players (or piciginaši) at the beach, you’ll notice right away that they work together as a synchronised orchestra that uses acrobatics, jumps and elegant movements to keep the ball in play.

 

The story of how Bačvice beach became the temple of the picigin is specific in and of itself. For starters, sand is an ideal surface for this purpose because it allows players to fall into the water without the danger of hurting themselves. This particular point is very important as the game is played in ankle-deep water. Seeing as Bačvice is the centre of the world for residents of Split (or centar svita, as they call it), with numerous bars and restaurants, the best picigin players often have an opportunity to show off their talents to a wider audience, especially the ladies.

 

Because of its popularity, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia included picigin on the list of intangible cultural heritage. Split also holds an unofficial “World Championship” in picigin every year, as well as a New Year’s Eve game, which has become a sort of a tradition.

Aleksandar Gospić

THE RULES

 

1. Picigin is played on a sandy beach on a day with no wind or waves, and the water should be about ankle-deep.

2. There are five players standing in a circle measuring about 30 m in radius.

3. Both hands are used, preferably with open palms, and the goal is to keep the balun dry.

4. Balun – it can’t be bought because it is actually a worn-out tennis ball with the fabric peeled off like an orange. The stripped tennis ball is then cleaned from glue, and the layer of rubber is hand sanded to a thickness of no more than a millimetre and a half. Once it’s finished, it needs a test run. If it satisfies the strict requirements set by experienced players, it can officially become a picigin ball.

A bit of trivia:

Some say that in 1908, students from Split brought back water polo from Prague with them, and wanted to play it on Bačvice beach. Since the sea there is shallow, this is where picigin was created, and it gained its present form after the end of World War I