[ VOLLEYBALL ]
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Former Punahou School standout Kevin Wong, 31, is building a house in Hawaii with the money he's earned as a professional beach volleyball player.
Life’s a beach
Kevin Wong has Olympic dreams
and a job atmosphere that’s
‘a total party’
He's building a house high up in St. Louis Heights with a view of Waikiki and beyond. It's going to be a big house -- five bedrooms -- big enough to hold the 6-foot-7 Kevin Wong and his very big dreams.
So far, beach volleyball has been footing the construction bills. Between endorsements and tournament earnings, the 31-year-old Punahou graduate has a six-figure income.
It's good money, very good money, enough to support his globe-trotting lifestyle. But the goal is -- and has always been -- to come back home to Hawaii to live.
When he changes his residency from California later this year, Wong hopes he'll be returning with a gold medal from the Olympic Games in Athens. He's got a new partner in Eric Fonoimoana, who was part of the winning duo in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"We're a good combination of power and finesse," said Wong, who returned to California last month to train. "I'm the tall guy at the net and Eric is the fast guy who can move on the court. We have good chemistry, we both take care of the ball and we both play an athletic game.
"It's such a high level nowadays. It's not just about who can make the least mistakes. It's about who can force the most (mistakes)."
Wong is not into making mistakes, as evidenced by his perfect 800 score in the math portion of the SAT. When he has changed partners, something he has done several times in his eight-year career, it's been with the idea to learn from the past and improve in the future.
He finished fifth in Sydney with Rob Heidger. Last year, he and Punahou/UCLA buddy Stein Metzger were the top-ranked U.S. team in the world.
The breakup with Metzger was difficult, Wong said.
"It was tough to do," he said. "We basically had two chiefs and no Indians on our team. It's hard when you've got two guys who want to be the boss. We kept butting heads for three years.
"It was a good run, sometimes in spite of ourselves. Sometimes we brought out the best in each other because we were so extreme, but it wasn't fun in the process."
Wong and Fonoimoana played in four events last year, winning their first time out. The seventh-seeded pair defeated No. 9 seed Eduardo Bacil and Jose Loiola for the prestigious Manhattan Beach Open title 23-25, 21-18, 15-13.
Fonoimoana and Wong finished the domestic season tied for 17th.
"It showed we can compete," Wong said. "Eric's 6-3, a gold medalist and I learned a ton from him in the two months I got to train with him. He's such a student of the game.
"But we didn't play as consistently as we're going to do this year hopefully."
The first test comes in the Brazil Open in Salvador, running for six days next week, starting Tuesday. It's the first stop on the Swatch-FIVB World Tour, and the first step of the final qualifying process for the Olympics, Aug. 14-24.
Wong and Fonoimoana come into the year tied for No. 35 overall, and as the No. 5 U.S. team. The top two American teams after 2003 were Dane Blanton-Jeff Nygaard and former UH player Sean Scott and partner Todd Rogers.
Only two U.S. teams will qualify for Athens.
"Breaking up with Stein kind of set us both back and we have to start and get points all over again," Wong said. "Stein is in a good spot (U.S. No. 3 with partner Dax Holdren) to go to the Olympics. Blanton and Nygaard are so far ahead. There's basically three teams going for that second spot.
"The Olympics is the goal of everyone who grew up watching sports. My parents tell me I was 3, sitting in front of the TV watching the Olympics. It's a goal, it's a total goal, and I'm working hard for it."
Wong worked hard during the offseason, working out for several hours a day. The regimen included 90 minutes of lifting, 60 minutes each of running and stretching, two hours of volleyball, with a little surfing thrown in.
"I'm not a surfer; I'm a volleyball guy trying to learn how to surf," he said. "It's a good workout for your shoulders.
"But give me time. I get good at everything I work at."
Volleyball is his job. He doesn't need help in getting noticed, such as the pink visor that is Karch Kiraly's trademark.
"I don't have a trademark color," Wong said. "There's not a lot of tall 6-7 Chinese guys running around the beach. I don't need a gimmick.
"What you need is to be an all-around player. That's the way it works on the beach. You have to do everything. Whatever you're weakest at, people will hammer at it."
Wong was on two NCAA championship teams (1993 and 1995) at UCLA. The three-time All-American was also on a collegiate national team that toured Greece, Italy and Spain.
He enjoys the outdoor game for a variety of reasons. There's less wear and tear on the body, and the perks are better.
"What's not to like about the beach?" he said. "I've been all over. I've played in Brazil six times, played for oil sheiks in the United Emirate Republic. I really like Austria because the promoter there is by far the best. They sold out the stands, 11,000. We made the finals. It was like playing in the Stan Sheriff Center except it's outdoors and everyone is wearing bikinis.
"The beach is such a circus. When I trained with the national (indoor) team, it was too serious. It's all about wake-up calls and curfews and appointments. (Beach volleyball is) Bud Light, bikinis, live music ... it's a total party."
Wong would like to see it happen in Hawaii again. The AVP is scheduled to return to Honolulu on Sept. 24-26 after a long absence.
The tour has had difficulty with permits and sites previously in the islands. The lack of beach volleyball courts grates on Wong, one of many who support turning the Natatorium into a beach volleyball venue.
"It's crazy," he said. "You have Hawaii, Waikiki Beach and people who love volleyball here. But that next step is not taken. I'd like to see a local circuit, with permanent courts set up.
"There's probably 20 foreign teams that come to California during the preseason. There's a lot of big budgets. The German team travels with managers, trainers, coaches. There's probably 60-70 people spending two months in California, training and playing. We could do a lot of cool things like that."
Wong has another "cool" idea. He sees renting out rooms in his house to friends, sharing his lifestyle and teaching them the game of volleyball while on vacation.
It would be a B&B with a spike: a V&B.
That's in the future, as are marriage and kids, and coming back here to live and coach.
So is the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
"I've always talked about Wong and Wong playing in China," said Wong, who would like to team with younger brother Scott, an All-American at Pepperdine. "Scott's a stud, had a great rookie year and I think he's ranked 20th. He just can't figure out how to beat me.
"I figure I've got five more years to play. We make pretty good money for jumping in the sand. But the house is pretty big. I've got to win a lot of money."