Four years ago I was in Split in Croatia, catching up with my sister, Vanessa.
She’d come from Australia with her husband to holiday there, so we figured we’d take the opportunity to pop over from London and catch up.
On our last day in Split we took a wander along the coast in the south of the city to Bačvice Beach.
Bačvice Beach is set on a pretty cove and is famous for its sandy beach and shallow water.
Bačvice Beach gets pretty packed in the summer. But on this chilly April morning it was practically deserted. Young mothers pushed babies in strollers and a group of men in speedos were practicing Picigin.
Picigin is a traditional ball game particular to Split and to Bačvice Beach itself. It is played in shallow water with a ball the size of a tennis ball, with the object being to use your hand to bat the ball from person to person without it ever touching the water.
Legend has it that the game was invented in 1908 when a group of Croatian students were set to go to a water polo tournament in Prague but had nowhere to practice.
There are no rules to Picigin, as such. It involves several players standing in a circle with two players called sidruni, anchors, because they do not move. But there are no winners or losers, no points scored, no opposing sides.
It’s just a fun, relaxing game, where participants get to show off extravagant leaps and acrobatic manoeuvres.
The guys we saw playing Picigin were practicing on the sand beach and giving it everything that they’d got.
I asked one of the players why they weren’t playing in the water and he said it was too cold at this time of the year.
I said that I’d heard that it was played on New Year’s Day every year regardless of the weather.
He rightly pointed out that it wasn’t New Year’s Day.