With a Life Spent on the Volleyball Court, Lars Hazen Reflects on the Triumphs and Trials That Defined His Career

A man with a beach.

  • Category
  • Written & photographed by
    Kat Monk

It was the summer of 1968 when Manhattan Beach’s Lars Hazen met his destiny. Lars’ father took him down to the Pier to watch the Manhattan Beach Open volleyball tournament. Legends Ron Von Hagen and Ron Lang played Larry Rundle and Henry Bergmann in the finals that year.

The match lasted well into the night, as was common back then with side-out scoring. Lars remembers fans using their car headlights to illuminate the court so the players could finish the game. Mesmerized by every minute detail of the sport, 5-year-old Lars declared beach volleyball his future.

Since that life-changing moment, Lars has faced his fair share of challenges. At just 36 years old, he was diagnosed and treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a life-threatening cancer. More recently he was treated for basal cell growths—a form of skin cancer. Neither would stop Lars from spending his life either playing, refereeing or coaching beach volleyball.

“Lars has a pure love for beach volleyball and was part of its golden era when the game transitioned from a SoCal lifestyle into a professional sport,” explains Kevin Cleary, former AVP president and a member of the CBVA Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame.

While pursuing a career as a player on the tour in 1989, Lars became a referee in large part because it suited his lifestyle. “It was a great way to make money and be around the sport,” he explains. Soon he was a mainstay on the tour.

“One tournament in particular was pretty significant. Had the AVP not revamped itself and held a last-minute tournament to take the place of the Manhattan Beach Open, my name would’ve been on the pier,” he adds.

Lars successfully played and refereed until it was considered a conflict of interest. Although he had major hopes, he realized that at just under 5’11” in height, he would be better off opting for a regular gig. The decision paid off as he now has more work as a referee—with high school, college, amateur and professional events—than he ever could have imagined.

“I didn’t always agree with his calls as a referee, but he was always fair,” says Eric Fonoimoana, Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball.

In addition to his work on the court, Lars took a job as a fifth grade teacher in the inner city. In doing so, he could get off work at 3 p.m. and have summers and vacations off to be at the beach. He only recently retired after 32 years on the job.

Among his deep war chest of beach volleyball stories, he recalls a memorable experience at the 1993 Manhattan Beach Open. The crowd was huge with a couple of locals playing.

“This was at a time when there were no consequences,” Lars says. “The score was 1-11 in a loser’s bracket game in a matchup between Tim ‘The Hov’ Hovland and Scott ‘Ayk’ Ayakatubby, and Troy Tanner and Eric Wurts.” The Hov and Ayk were both veterans of the game, but this was a new partnership as they neared the end of their careers.

“The Hov kept screaming, ‘I never touched that ball,’” Lars remembers. “Infuriated by the call from the up referee, Butch, he walked to the back of the court and poked me hard in the chest and said, ‘Lars, you need to convince him that I didn’t touch that ball.’”

Lars responded with having Butch issue a yellow card. Lars and Butch had grown up playing together at Marine Street and were prior competitors.

“At 1-13, The Hov came back and poked me even harder in the chest and screamed at me that I was a man without a beach.” In layman’s terms, this meant Lars was no longer allowed to play at Marine Street.

“The Hov received a red card, and then Ayk received one after he booted the game ball to the moon. Game over.” The local crowd joked with Lars for years that he was a “man without a beach.”

In 1999 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy for six months. “It was a traumatic experience, but I am lucky to not have had any relapses,” he says. “I was on a drip for three-plus hours every time I went in for chemo.”

Growing up surfing and playing beach volleyball, he is not shocked that he has needed to have many basal cells burned off his skin. Soon Lars will meet with an oncologist to see if he has a gene that makes him prone to cancer in general. If so, he will undergo oral therapy, taking a pill that acts as a form of chemotherapy daily.

After all those years of jumping so high, Lars’ knees don’t allow him to play beach volleyball anymore. But you will still see him on the beach. You might not recognize him all covered up, but his mission is to preserve his days on the sand as long as possible.

Join the Southbay Community

Receive the latest stories, event invitations, local deals and other curated content from Southbay.
By clicking the subscribe button, I agree to receive occasional updates from Southbay.