Class of 1992Active: 1954 - 1967
21 Open Victories
The first thing that comes to mind when you mention the name Mike O’Hara are those five Manhattan Opens. I mean he’s got the entire West section of the pier all to himself. But while those five plaques are an incredible legacy, they don’t begin to tell his full story. It is safe to say that there is not a single member of the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame who has led a more interesting and purposeful life than Mike O’Hara.
He was born in Texas and moved to California as a young boy. He attended Santa Monica High School and then Santa Monica City College before transferring to UCLA. It was at UCLA that Mike discovered volleyball. He describes finding the sport like this: “It was like being in the desert all my life and suddenly I found a magic waterfall.”
He was instrumental in making volleyball a varsity sport at UCLA – so all you Bruins – Karch, Sinjin – you guys should make sure to thank Mike later this evening.
Mike won two national championships at UCLA, played on the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the Pan American games and on the first American Olympic team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And like a lot of Bruins, he used the beaches at State and Sorrento to make the transition from the hardwood to the sand.
Mike’s first open victory came with Don McMahon at the 1954 State Beach Open. He would go on to win other opens with McMahon as well as with Ron Lang and Barry Brown.
But it was his partnership with Mike Bright that cemented O’Hara’s status as a beach legend. It was an interesting partnership, O’Hara was the tall serious player who approached training and tournaments in a business-like manner while Bright was the laid-back surfer from Hermosa Beach. But together they formed an almost invincible team. O’Hara and Bright played in 18 Open tournaments and won 12 of them, including those first five Manhattan Opens. That’s not a bad winning percentage.
It’s also worth mentioning Mike’s great success as a mixed-doubles player. In those days, mixed-doubles was serious business and worth almost as many bragging rights as the regular tournaments. O’Hara, with his partner Edie Conrad, was one of the best.
We often talk about which players from one era could compete in another era. There is little doubt Mike could compete in any era. In fact, he’s almost a perfect prototype of the modern player: tall with long arms and explosive out of the sand. He was also one of the first players to utilize blocking as a routine strategy on the beach.
After his playing days were over Mike went on to do—well—just about everything. It would take all night to do justice to Mike’s accomplishments as a businessman and civic leader.
Mike’s been a:
• Co-founder of the American Basketball Association
• A key organizer of the 1984 Olympics games in Los Angeles
• Responsible for launching the World Volleyball League as well as the World Hockey Association and a professional track and field circuit
• He also invented Wallyball which not only helped keep all of those unused racquetball courts filled up, but also led to the adoption of rally scoring in all of volleyball.
Mike has never slowed down. He continues to spread the gospel of volleyball. Just last year, at the age of 79, he was asked to participate in an international conference on the value of volleyball for youth in the Middle East. No doubt he is still driven by the hope that our world will be a better place if everyone can discover the same magic waterfall he did so many years ago.