Picigin (pronounced “p-tsi-ghin”) is a kind of amateur sport practiced, above all, in Split and in the Dalmatian region. The temple of this game is considered the beach of Bačvice, where picigin was born more than 100 years ago.
Picigin is a team game played on the sandy beach with the sea up to the ankles, and partially even, on the shore. The number of players is not strictly delimited but picigin is optimal for 5 participants. According to the rules, the ball (5-10 cm in diameter, 50-150 grams of weight) is hit only once and only with one hand, although, certain concessions are allowed if they help to improve the general impression. The general impression depends on numerous factors: collaboration of the players and teamwork, sacrifice during the game, creativity, technique, difficulty in performing the shot and fair play. The latter probably added because it exists in all sports though in picigin it does not have any particular meaning.
Playing #picigin at Bacvice beach in Split.
The fields suitable for practicing picigin are usually those of sandy beaches (or very fine pebbles). The sea must not be deep more than 10-20 cm. The game consists in passing the ball between the members of the team, without letting it fall into the sea or on the ground. According to the official rules and the definition of picigin itself, it is a game played by people of all ages, men and women as well.
In the “everyday” version of the game, there are no scores to assign. Nevertheless, it is a very entertaining leisure in which all the players contribute to keep the ball in play, as long as possible, performing spectacular throws in order to keep it in the air.
Since 2005 there is also the "Picigin World Championships" where numerous teams perform in front of a jury which evaluates their performances, above all technical-artistic skills.
Since 2007, picigin is "a non-material good of high cultural value", protected by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, and entrusted to the members of the "Picigin Bačvice" ecological association in Split.
The curious origins of picigin
Back in 1908, three years before the appearance of the first soccer ball in Dalmatia, the students from Prague brought to the city beach of Bacvice a very unusual game, they called “water polo” at the time. As the sea is not deep enough at Bacvice, the game they developed looked more like a species of a “shore water polo” than an aquatic discipline. In any case, picigin has been played in Split continuously, from the World War I up to today, following, almost unchanged, the original rules. The origins of picigin are certainly in Split, where it is considered “the most Splitian sport” of all. The legendary beach of Bacvice is the world temple of picigin, but the game is also played in other places along the Croatian coast, in different ways, with playing styles and rules that vary from place to place.
Picigin in Split - a centenary tradition!
The real enthusiasts play picigin all year round, rain or shine, and all day long, morning or evening. The tradition, however, wants (and it is a “must”) that picigin is played the first day of the year. On the 1st of January, every year, it is amazing to see the beach of Bacvice crowded with people who throw themselves into the cold sea, in the middle of winter! Since 2005 the world championships of picigin are held every year, guess where ?! ... Exactly, at the beach of Bačvice!
Bacvice, the sandy beach in the heart of Split, the temple of picigin.
Description of the game and the rules
Picigin is a game with no winners, the reason why it is difficult to talk about prohibitive rules. The basic rules are, in fact, very simple: 5 players are positioned at sea (up to 10-20 cm deep), about 6-7 meters away one from each other. They pass the ball hitting it with the palm of the hand (you must not hold the ball back) and trying to keep it in the air as long as possible and do not let it fall into the sea. Usually, the ball is stretched to the other player allowing him or her to make a throw, as spectacular as possible.
Picigin players at Bacvice beach.
During the game, it happens that the players exchange the starting positions, which is allowed by the official rules. The ball must be hit with the palm of one hand only, but it is desirable to use both, the left and the right one, to contribute as much as possible to the show. However, the unwritten rules (speaking from my personal experiences) allow you to hit the ball even with the head, shoulder, knee, leg or with any part of the body: the only thing that really matters is to keep the ball in the play! Once the ball falls in the sea, you start with a new game again …and so on, as far as you want to play.
As already mentioned, the ideal situation is when there are 5 players, though picigin can be played also with less people. Two players of the team are called “sidruni” (centers or technicians) and the other 3 are the runners. The game is allowed to mixed teams of all ages.
A picigin player hitting balun.
The ball (Balun)
It is interesting and right to know that picigin is played using balun and not the ball (lopta) or the small ball (loptica). The use of these terms at Bacvice is strictly prohibited and it is immediately sanctioned! The balun for playing picigin derives from the tennis ball. The manufacturing process is as follows: Take a well-used and reduced tennis ball, cut it slightly with a knife and then peel it easily. The glue left on the surface is removed by rubbing the ball against a rough wall and then with sandpaper. It is necessary to reduce the thickness of the skin from 3 cm to 1.5 cm. To make a good “ball”, balun is glazed with white chalk before slimming each new layer of the skin. The whole procedure usually lasts 2 afternoons. It is curious to know that there is also a balun for the windy weather conditions, heavier than the original one.
Picigin is played on the beaches with shallow seawaters. Other kind of beaches are not advisable because there is a real danger of really getting hurt. The optimal height of the sea is up to the ankle because it allows fast movements and facilitates the game, but at the same time, the sea must be deep enough to absorb the falls and the jumps.
Now that you know everything about it, you can start playing picigin and discover how you are doing in this game. It is entertaining, it is amusing, it is plenty of fun and it could also be exhausting if you find yourself loving it very much. In any case, once you play picigin, you are certainly a winner!