In August of 2000, Eric Fonoimoana was relatively unknown. He had three wins on the AVP tour, was continually in the mix, but was largely unknown outside of the world of beach volleyball fans. Fonoimoana’s partner was Dain Blanton. They believed in themselves at a time when few others did.
We were a very streaky team. Meaning, if we got hot we could beat anybody, Fonoimoana said.
And they did, which well get to in a bit. First up is his tournament, the Queen of the Beach tournament, at the Hermosa Beach Pier June 25-26, an event co-sponsored by USA Volleyball and the AVP.
High school and college players are invited to play in a round-robin format where each player plays with every other player in their pool of four players. The top two players advance to form new pools until a Queen of the Beach is crowned. Fonoimoana believes that a 2020 or 2024 Olympian will be present at this tournament.
Fonoimoana is a big fan of the format, since he won the AVP’s King of the Beach tournament in Las Vegas 1998, his second victory on the AVP tour, and his biggest paycheck of $72,000.
You figure out real quickly who is positive, who plays well, and who plays well with others, he said. I think that’s a huge trait that these girls need to learn. It makes you communicate. The event will also feature coaching seminars and discussions with coaches from many of the country’s top college beach volleyball programs.:
That chain of events for Blanton and him in 2000 still factors in for Fonoimoana.
Leading into the last tournament of the year in Belgium, we needed to get fourth place or better. Here comes the mental part: if we dont get fourth place, we go home without going to the Olympics. We ended up getting third, and the mental anguish of dealing with the pressure, for a two-year process of battling it out for the Olympics, that gave us a leg up because we did it the hard way.”
The hardest way possible. The last tournament.
That was one month before the 2000 games. And the amount of media attention they got?
None. That was probably a good thing too, he said. It allowed us to focus in on enjoying ourselves and competing, and focusing on one team and one point at a time.
Fonoimoana and Blanton got hot. Five matches later, they won the gold medal over Brazil’s Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos 12-11, 12-9. Fonoimoana’s beach volleyball career was hugely successful, earning over a million dollars in prize money.
Winning gold changed his life.
It added more demands. It opened more doors. More opportunities, Fonoimoana said.
He parlayed those opportunities into a successful real estate career. He also gave back to the volleyball community extensively. Fonoimoana founded the Dig for Kids foundation, an after-school program committed to provide youth in low-income communities with increased opportunities for academic and athletic achievement.
Fonoimoana is serious about giving back.
The way I was brought up, you have to do your chores, you have to do your homework, then after that you can go and play. A lot of my friends would actually help me with my chores because I wasnt allowed to play until they were done.
He shares his knowledge of the game extensively, as the girl’s coach of the undefeated Mira Costa high school team. Fonoimoana also coaches the Elite Volleyball Club with pro beach stalwarts Holly McPeak and Barbara Fontana. He is proud of the 51 Elite Volleyball Club players that have participated or received offers of college scholarships.
His advice for players starting the game:
Be coachable. Give your best effort. All the time.
More information on the Queen of the Beach Invitational can be found here: