| Dispatches, May 1997|
In the four years since he arrived stateside, Loiola has done well for a toddler. He's ranked third on the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour and was recently honored by his peers as the game's best offensive player. Last season, with partner Adam Johnson, he racked up an impressive seven wins, lifting his career prize-money tally to $800,000. And as the '97 season got under way in March, Loiola wasted no time beefing up that total: He walked away from the first of the year's 24 tournaments with the title and a $78,000 check.
Word of Loiola began circulating on U.S. beaches after the '93 World Championships in Brazil, where the gangly, six-foot-four kid not only earned a silver medal, but impressed the world's top players with his astounding 42-inch vertical leap. Now an affable 27-year-old with a perpetual grin, Loiola is something of a freak occurrence on the AVP circuit — and not just because he's the first foreign-born player ever to break into its upper echelon. Unlike many other sports, in beach volleyball most players don't hit it big in terms of stature or cash until their thirties. The tour's perennially top-ranked megastar, Karch Kiraly, is 36, and legends Mike Dodd and Sinjin Smith are both 39. That, along with his recent decision to pair with the game's other wunderkind, 28-year-old Olympic gold medalist Kent Steffes, has many veterans speculating that Loiola could dominate the game for a decade or more. "He's as gifted a player as I've ever seen," says Dodd, himself no slouch, with 72 career tournament victories. "He's got a quick, strong arm and an unbelievable jump. I don't see anything stopping him."
But for Loiola, reaching the sport's pinnacle is only part of his mission. "The image of the game needs to be changed," he contends. "A lot of people, they think we are a bunch of guys hanging out on the beach, drinking beer." Not that Loiola, whose sponsors include Nike and Hard Rock Cafe, hasn't come to enjoy the perks: So far, he's acquired houses in Manhattan Beach and Brazil, a BMW, a fiancþee and a year-old daughter, and a trademark tattoo. "It is a lion with eagle wings," he says, staring at the inside of his left biceps. "I don't want to become a Dennis Rodman, but I may get another." Besides that, he plans to start honing his language skills a bit. "Getting my English better is one thing I like to do," he says, munching a Caesar salad. "When I got to this country I could only order steak."
Photograph by Craig Cameron Olsen