Class of 2009Active: 1975 - 1984
11 Open Victories
Beach volleyball has always been full of eccentric athletes -- Vogie, Wilt, the Hov, Stormin' Normand, and plenty more. But for sheer color, few matched the fiery incandescence of Gary Hooper, who animated a decade of weekend tournaments from the mid 70s through the mid 80s. His 11 tourney wins and over 50 fifth or better finishes (usually with bombastic partner, Steve Obradovich) established him among the very best of the beach elite.
Volleyball Magazine once said, "Hooper is as good as fanatic animal strength can make him." And that was in reference to his indoor game at UC Santa Barbara, where walls, coaches, and teammates tended to limit his dynamism. On the beach he was unleashed.
Smaller than other big beach hammers, Hooper took his physical gifts to the next level with pure drive. His was a work ethic rarely seen in our laid back beach sport. Even on windy days at Santa Barbara's East Beach when courts were empty, he'd set the ball to himself, jump to spike it, and sprint to shag it ... only to hit it again at the next net ... and the next ... and the next, until he ran out of nets and sand. Then he'd turn around and repeat the drill coming back, over and over and over. Endurance became his forte in an era when hours of grinding in the sand was absolutely essential. As others would tire late in tournaments, Hoop would blaze on.
Hooper had always been a successful pole vaulter and an aggressive surfer before volleyball, in fact he was an aggressive everything -- with his white blond hair, deep tan and explosive strength. He was ever balanced on the edge of hyperactivity, and sometimes just over the edge. Once after a late loss in a multi-sport competition at Laguna, he punished himself with a self-inflicted blow to the stomach. He was severely injured, but his intense drive took him all the way to the next weekend's open tournament final in San Diego. After a brutal semifinal win with OB, Hoop had to forfeit, and bow to the pain and the scary sight of the baseball sized knot in his abdomen.
Greg Lee, who met Hooper in that, and many other finals, recalled frequently going up against him. "I knew that to beat Hoop we'd need hours of consistent passing, precision setting, and solid hitting ... and maybe earplugs. He rarely tired and was very vocal. Fans loved him."
The colorful Hooper was a hit wherever he appeared. These were the days of the IVA, the pro indoor league, and Hooper (a beach specialist) put on a mask and cape and golden shoes to become "Dr. Dig". He was to challenge Santa Barbara fans to try and ace him as a half-time promo, and win a new TV if they could. Unfortunately the spray paint on his shoes rendered them slippery and Hoop spun out on his first several tries. Three TVs later, Dr. Dig retired back to the sand where he was much more at home.
Today's players have coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, and sports psychologists. Hooper and others of his era had fun ... and an all-consuming love of beach volleyball and the subculture that embraced it. And in that world ... in that time ... Gary Hooper was perhaps the most colorful devotee of all.
written by:: Jon Lee