Loen, Norway, June 24, 2020 - It was just past midnight in Norway, but Hendrik Mol and Mathias Berntsen wanted the conversation to last a smidge longer. They’d just parked the cars, you see, and the rest of the Beach Volley Vikings crew – Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and Christian Sorum, who is not his younger brother but may as well be – was busy setting up the tents and sleeping bags for another night on their road trip through their home country.
They’d stopped for the night in Loen, an idyllic little farmtown with a glassy lake and snow-capped mountains.
“It’s been a special summer in Norway this year,” said Berntsen, who is 24 years old and Hendrik’s partner. “It’s fun to travel around and see everything because we haven’t been able to get out and travel Norway ourselves.”
There is something undeniably beautiful about the manner in which this crew does life together. When the topic of the Beach Volley Vikings arises, most will justifiably think immediately of Anders Mol and Sorum, the best team in the world, authors of two of the most remarkably successful seasons in FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour history.
There is, of course, much more to it than two preternaturally talented individuals. Without Hendrik and Berntsen, and the familial atmosphere created by their love for beach volleyball and for one another, they wouldn’t be the most recognizable brand name in the sport today.
“I wouldn’t say we were born with social media but we were introduced to it,” said Hendrik, who played his college ball at the University of Hawai’i and began playing on the FIVB in earnest in 2018. “We saw the need for something like this early on. There was a niche to fill. We decided to do something with it, and that was the first step, and the second step was Anders and Christian took off.”
Every Viking has his role. Hendrik is the social media savant. Anders is the producer of their popular vlogs, providing insight and an endearing behind-the-scenes look to their wildly successful group. Berntsen is the one-man booking company, finding the best flights and accommodations for the crew as they travel the world, one tournament to the next. As for Sorum?
“Christian?” Hendrik asked the 6-foot-4 defender, twice named Defensive Player of the Year. “What’s your role? Sleeping?”
Sorum responded in his usual way: he smiled and laughed.
“Christian is just here to look pretty,” Hendrik said, laughing. “Smiling and waving. Siding out. That’s his role.”
It is interactions like these that make this crew so lovable. Despite appearing anything but mortal on a beach volleyball court, they are, indeed, human. They joke, poke fun at one another, to the point that the Vikings even made a shirt, for sale in their merchandise store, of Sorum snoozing in the car, his head leaned back and lolling to the right, mouth open just a bit.
These are all little ingredients in the alchemy that has produced the group known across the beach volleyball world as the Beach Volley Vikings. Go to any tournament and you will find a group of fanatics, dressed in Viking garb, cheering for Norway.
No matter where the tournament is held, the Norwegians are the home team.
“It’s still a small community in Norway,” Hendrik said of beach volleyball’s growth in their country in the past two years. “It’s not like there are troops of good players to play with but definitely since Anders and Christian started doing well it sparked a lot. People knew who they were and that’s important for you to grow.”
What is known far less than Anders and Sorum’s success is that Hendrik and Berntsen are not far off from breaking into the sport’s upper echelon. In two years, they’ve established themselves as a bona fide Olympic contender as well, qualifying for the World Tour Finals in Rome, beating Chilean cousins Marco and Esteban Grimalt to make the main draw.
Mathias Berntsen hits at the net at the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals in Rome, Italy
They understand, of course, that there are improvements to be made. It’s why they don’t look at 2020 as a lost season, but an opportunity to close the gap between them and the top teams in the world.
“For us, it’s an advantage to have an extra year to prepare,” Berntsen said. “We’re really looking forward to the season in 2021.”
What, exactly, they need to improve is difficult to say. They’ve proven they can contend with the best teams on tour. It’s just difficult to sustain. They’ve noticed a funny trend that when Hendrik is on, Berntsen is off, and vice versa.
But in the matches they’ve both played well? They can get the job done.
“It’s hard for us to sustain a high level through an entire game, like Anders and Christian do,” Hendrik said. “They can sustain a high level throughout the entire game. while we have a lot of good periods, we can also have some down periods.”
It is no small help that Hendrik and Berntsen get to practice daily against Anders and Sorum, the best team on the planet and arguably one of the best defensive teams ever (it should not go unmentioned that Anders has twice been named the Best Blocker, and Sorum the Best Defender). “It’s lucky,” Berntsen said, “because we always have someone in practice to challenge us.”
Beyond that, they have someone to build something with. There have been phenomenal beach volleyball teams in the past. But there have not been teams who could create a movement, such as the Vikings have.
So they’ll use this year to get better, yes, but they’ll also use it to produce content, connect with fans, run camps that will build the sport in their country. And they’ll also use it to road trip, explore Norway over the summer for the first time since they began playing full-time on the World Tour.