The annual World Championships of Ladyboy Water Volleyball charity event is now in its 6th year
Having just watched a BBC documentary on transgender people, I learned that millions of folk around the world feel uncomfortable in their bodies, as they do not feel that the sex they were assigned to at birth was the right one for them. They feel trapped in the wrong body.
In Thailand this is not so much an issue. Sexuality in Thailand is quite free and open, and transgender men—known colloquially as ‘Ladyboys’, or Katoeys—can be seen everywhere. They often find employment as cabaret performers, or in bars and clubs, and on Thai TV they work as presenters, comedians, and sometimes serious actors. They also can be found in professional settings—working as shop clerks, nurses, lawyers, etc.—and for the most part they are shown a great deal of acceptance. They are, to put it simply, a part of Thai culture, but even in this accepting society Ladyboys still have their detractors.
Combating this prejudice is long-time Pattaya resident Tony Sales. About six years ago Tony decided he wanted to give something back to Thailand, to repay the nation for all the good times he’s enjoyed here. He was familiar with a few local bar owners, and was also aware that sometimes Ladyboys did not always receive favourable write-ups in the press, so he came up with an idea. Knowing that these athletic girls—with stunning figures—who worked in the bars were highly competitive, he figured people might enjoy seeing them kitted out in their bikinis, in a swimming pool, playing a game of volleyball. That grain of an idea blossomed into the annual World Championships of Ladyboy Water Volleyball, now in its 6th year.
The fun and games for the 2017 edition will take place on Saturday November 11th, starting at 1pm, in what has become the home of the event—the flat-bottomed pool of the Areca Lodge Hotel in central Pattaya (on Soi Diana). The event usually sells out in advance, but on the website there are links for donations, all of which will go to various charities. Only unavoidable expenses are paid for directly, such as the hire of the hotel and pool, promotion, and prize money for the winners. The event is dependent on the generosity of those who buy the tickets, and others from around the world who can’t be there in person but still make donations, or send in money to sponsor the teams.
After all is over for the year, periodic follow up visits are made to the places that received the charitable donations—often with members of the volleyball teams and sponsors coming along so that everyone can see precisely what the money raised was used for. And they are joyfully received by the recipients, especially by the kids who live in the orphanages the charity supports.
After this year’s tournament is over the event will have raised over five million baht for local charities. It is the top-earning one-day charity event held in the region, and now attracts international attention.
“Although it is only a one-day event, it takes nearly a year to get everything into place,” explains Tony. “As soon as the event is over, the planning for the next one begins.”
As Tony has been doing this mostly alone, and is not getting any younger, he is now very happy that the Rotary Club of the Eastern Seaboard are becoming more involved and helping him out, taking a little of the weight off his shoulders.
The idea behind the whole show is that it’s a non-profit charitable event put on with the help of unpaid volunteers who want to provide an entertaining and unique fund-raiser for charity. It also portrays Ladyboys in a positive and respectful manner, and promotes the participating venues and sponsors. But above all it gives everyone a fun day out—organizers, participants, and guests.
The Pattaya-based teams taking part this year are: the White Sharks, sponsored by New Bar (Soi Made in Thailand); the Green Hornets, sponsored by Katoeys R Us (Soi Diamond, Walking St); the Pink Panthers, sponsored by Independent Laem Chabang; and the Black Scorpions, sponsored by Lita Bar (Soi 13/2). The lone Bangkok team will be the Golden Eagles, sponsored by Why Not (Sukhumvit Soi 20).
Apart from the hugely competitive matches with the girls playing volleyball, there are a host of other things going on, including a DJ working throughout the day, a cheerleading competition, a raffle, an auction of donated goods, a giant international buffet for all ticket holders and volunteer staff, and beers and wines on offer at really great discounts. There’s even musical performances by children from the orphanages that are recipients of the money raised.
The charities that will benefit this year are the Pattaya Orphanage, the Glory Hut Foundation, and the Pakse Medical Centre in Southern Laos. If you weren’t lucky enough to score a ticket this year, check out the website for photos and videos, and when you see the tix for LBWVB 2018 go on sale, grab one quickly. See you there next year!
The morning of the World Championships of Ladyboy Water Volleyball sees a hive of activity at Areca Lodge, as the poolside and surrounding area is transformed. Tents are erected, the all-important volleyball net is set into position in the pool, the speakers, PA system, and computers are set up for the DJ and MC, the scoreboard is erected, and the drinks stations, tables, and chairs, are put in place. At about mid-day guests from all over the world start to arrive. They have arranged to be in Thailand to coincide with this event—many having forged friendships with people they met at previous competitions (which only adds to the party atmosphere).
As the music starts to pump, the beer and wine starts to flow. Friends old and new cheer the arrival of the volleyball players who receive even louder applause when they come back into the pool area after having changed into their bikinis. The teams will have been practicing hard for their volleyball matches over the preceding weeks, and some of their co-workers have developed elaborate cheerleading routines to spur them on.
The venue starts to fill up rapidly, and the day really begins when the first two teams jump wildly into the pool, accompanied by cheers and applause from everyone present. The referee and scorekeeper now have to keep a close eye on the teams to make sure the naughty girls stick to the rules. The music continues to play throughout the afternoon, and as the matches progress quickly—in a round-robin format—it will soon become apparent that one team or another is gaining the competitive edge. With the spectators all the while loudly cheering and supporting their chosen team of beauties.
After the eventual winner is finally decided upon, the team delightedly poses for photos as their cheerleading squad gives its final performance of the day—followed by a rousing final burst of wild applause from all present (guests, organizers, volunteers, and hotel staff). But even though the sport is over, the buffet, auction, and other evening entertainments are still to come. It really is a bloody great day out of fun and revelry!
By Robin Westley Martin