MANHATTAN BEACH — Gail Castro, professional volleyball player, was getting ready for work. She changed into a purple bathing suit and tied back her long blond hair. Then she donned a visor and a pair of mirrored wraparound sunglasses and jogged off barefoot, towel in one hand and thermos in the other.
Castro, 36, is one of the pioneers of the Women's Professional Volleyball Assn., yet with a washboard stomach, muscular legs and well-defined biceps she wears her age well.
She has played so consistently that volleyball has been her only job the past five years. During the season, she is on the road each weekend, but her husband, Larry, and 7-year-old son, Larry Jr., usually stay at home in Carlsbad, awaiting tournament updates by phone.
This season has been another success for Castro. She and Elaine Roque, a former UCLA All-American, are 28-12, including two second-place and two third-place finishes. Last year, they advanced to six finals and compiled a 60-12 record.
This weekend, Castro and Roque, the third-seeded pair in a 41-team field, will compete in the Hermosa Beach Open, the seventh tournament of the 1994 WPVA season. The 15-event tour began in April in Puerto Rico and will conclude in Las Vegas on Sept. 18.
"Getting older is harder," Castro said. "Workouts have to be much more quality and you have to be in better shape to compete with the younger players. You \o7 really\f7 have to work harder to stay in shape."
During an eight-year beach career in which she has teamed with various players, Castro has recorded three tournament victories, 14 seconds and 15 thirds. She has advanced to the semifinals in 50 tournaments and has earned almost $150,000 in prize money.
All of the victories came in 1991, with Lori Kotas as her partner. Castro and Kotas played together in 69 events and still hold the record for the longest partnership in women's pro beach volleyball history.
Kotas was the blocker and Castro the team's defensive backbone, covering the regulation-sized court and traversing the deep sand.
Castro is also a powerful hitter, but she is best known for her lethal jump serves. She leads the tour with 41 aces.
"She really goes for it with a lot of velocity," said former UCLA All-American Liz Masakayan, who forms the top-ranked team with Karolyn Kirby. "There's no doubt about it, Gail has one of the toughest serves around."
Castro played volleyball and basketball at Crescenta Valley High. She was an All-Southern Section middle blocker as a senior in 1975 and was named school co-athlete of the year with Brad Holland, current basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton who played for UCLA and the Lakers.
San Jose State offered Castro a full volleyball scholarship, but she wanted to stay close to home and chose Valley College because of its well-regarded coaching staff.
Castro led the Monarchs to consecutive Metropolitan Conference titles in 1976 and 1977 and a state championship in '76 when the team was undefeated. She was named the league's most valuable player.
During her sophomore year in '77, the Monarchs advanced to the state final before losing.
"We had unbelievable talent on that 1976 team and Gail was our leader," said Diedra Stark, who coached the team and still teaches physical education at the school. "We always used her offensive strength because she was such a great hitter and blocker."
Stark has followed Castro's career through the years and often watches her matches on television.
"It's exciting to see her play," Stark said. "I see that she still has that enthusiasm and she is still so talented. I'm not surprised that she has had so much success."
Castro completed her college career at Cal State Long Beach, where she was an All-Southern California Athletic Assn. middle blocker. Later, she played two years of professional indoor volleyball in Italy.
Besides competing on the domestic pro beach tour, Castro plays internationally in a winter series that will help determine which two-person teams represent the United States at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Beach volleyball will be a medal sport for the first time. Three U.S. women's teams will qualify.
Castro likes her chances, so retirement is out of the question.
"Now that they have dangled that carrot in front of me I want to go," Castro said. "I want to play in the Olympics and I'm going to work hard to do it."
That's why most days Castro can be found at the beach. She trains four times a week for about four hours and lifts weights twice a week.
The sand workout includes intense drills and practice games. It's really no day at the beach.
"Hey, this is \o7 hard\f7 work," she said during a water break. "You really have to push yourself and go hard every single time."