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What: Roberto Rodriguez of Guaynabo became the first Puerto Rican player to win an AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour event on Sunday at the San Francisco Open.
Why it matters: Rodriguez’s title can be the spark to reinvigorate beach volleyball in Puerto Rico, where the indoor game has reigned supreme for years, as it would be an ideal location for players and partners.

Roberto Rodriguez (L) and Ed Ratledge after winning the AVP San Francisco Open (credit: Mpu Dinani)

When Roberto “Rafú” Rodriguez teamed with veteran Ed Ratledge to win last weekend’s AVP San Francisco Open beach volleyball tournament at the scenic foot of the Bay Bridge, it wasn’t just his (and Ratledge’s) first AVP Tour (@avpbeachwin. It was the first for a native of Puerto Rico on the tour, which might seem odd for a region that has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

While the beach game has enjoyed immense popularity in Brazil and has achieved a modicum of success in some other Latin American regions, it’s the indoor game that has thrived in Puerto Rico. It’s something that the Guaynabo native hopes can change, with his win on Sunday an early catalyst.

Especially for the younger kids coming up, they can see a guy that they play with, they can do it if they work hard.

“I think it sets an example,” said Rodriguez following his and Ratledge’s 21-15, 21-18 triumph over No. 5 seeded Chase Budinger, a former NBA player, and two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal. “Anybody can outwork someone and accomplish whatever they want. Especially for the younger kids coming up, they can see a guy that they play with, they can do it if they work hard.”

“Rafú is one of the most kind-hearted people I know,” said Ratledge, who won for the first time in 18 years and 145 previous AVP Tour events. “If you are going to spend as much time around a volleyball partner as you do, you want someone who is that way.”

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Roberto Rodriguez (credit Robert Beck)

But the road is a challenging one. AVP Tour records note that there have been 30 other players in tour history who have hailed from the U.S. territory, notably Raul Papaleo, who competed in 55 events between 1994 an 2006, Jonathan Acosta, a UCLA star who played 40 tournaments in the 2000s and Joaquin Acosta, who played in 22 a decade ago, with a best finish of 7th.

And while the climate, beaches and tourism of Puerto Rico might seem to lead to hosting events there, there hasn’t been a strong push at least by the AVP, with the 1994 “Isla Verde” tournament the only one sanctioned by the main U.S. tour, though the WPVA, the main women’s tour in the 1990s, NORCECA (@NorcecaInfo), a tour which holds events in North, Central America and the Caribbean, have held a few there.

“A lot of young kids are playing there now, but there is no adult national team per se,” added Rodriguez, who lives and trains in Southern California but whose family is mostly in Guaynabo and visits him often. “But there are a lot of good players and good talent coming up.”

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Rodriguez was the first Puerto Rican to reach even an AVP Tour semifinal, and the win was especially satisfying as the tandem won five straight matches at The Embarcadero-Pier 30/32 in just their third event together.

What can this mean for the future of the sport in Puerto Rico? The AVP Tour now has eight solid events on it annual calendar, and not just in the traditional hotbeds of the sport. New York, Chicago, Austin and Seattle are among the other stops, and by holding successful, sponsor-driven tournaments—with free general admission and limited “club” and premium sold seating, most of the revenue comes from sponsors—in such regions, the Tour has shown a willingness to schedule outside of the sport’s comfort zone. If larger partners like Wilson (@WilsonSportingG), Nissan )@NissanUSAand Amazon (which broadcasts the majority of the matches via Prime) as well as highly targeted sponsors like KT Tape (@KTTape), Hydro Flask (@HydroFlask), powercrunch (@PowerCrunchBar) and others can translate in large mainland cities, perhaps the formula can work on the island as well.

Maybe Puerto Rico, once it is more recovered from last year’s devastating hurricane, can be a viable option moving forward. In any case, it has its first champion on the sand, and maybe a champion for its cause.

Cover Image: Robert Beck
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