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IT’S THE SPORT OF THE BEACH : SO WHY ISN’T SAN DIEGO A PRO VOLLEYBALL TOWN?

Times Staff Writer

The level of beach volleyball at State Beach in Santa Monica and Marine Street Beach in Manhattan Beach rivals that of pickup basketball games in New York and Chicago.

It’s good. Real good.

And it’s where the action is. Where the best and the most shrewd players compete. White balls are spiked in the sparkling sand along Coast Highway with the same intensity that brown balls are dunked in old, netless rims in downtown playgrounds.

“The Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach area is the Mecca of beach volleyball,” said Mike Dodd, a professional beach volleyball player who will compete in the San Diego Open on Saturday (beginning at 9 a.m.) and Sunday (8 a.m.) at Ocean Beach. “These guys aren’t out there for fun. It is where the competition plays. All the good young players come out of those areas.”

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The beach areas around Los Angeles have produced nine of the top 10 players on the pro volleyball tour. The 10th is from Santa Barbara.

What about San Diego beach players?

There are volleyball nets at Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and on the beaches in La Jolla. There are certainly lots of tall, blond, tan, athletic men populating those beaches. And there are lots of games.

“There are some good players in South Mission Beach, but the players there are more into recreational volleyball,” Dodd said. “The intensity level is much less, and the quality is less.”

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Intense, four-hour-a-day training sessions in Los Angeles. Happy hour and sunsets in San Diego.

Dodd, who played volleyball and basketball at San Diego State University from 1976-77 through 1979-80, is a native of Manhattan Beach who frequents the main court at Marine Street.

“When I want to train, I want to play against the best,” Dodd said. “I mean, Bjorn Borg didn’t go down to the recreation court to find a guy to practice with.”

Said Doug Dannevik, the UC San Diego women’s volleyball coach and the coach of the West team that will compete in the National Sports Festival in July: “There are a lot more people in that area (Los Angeles) who live within a mile of the beach. And most of those guys played in high school. San Diego has just recently gotten started in high school volleyball.”

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What about the weekend players who show off in front of their girlfriends at South Mission Beach? Is there any way they could compete on the 15-stop professional volleyball series?

No, according to Dodd.

“Outside of athletic ability, the biggest thing is experience,” Dodd said. “I’ve been playing on the beach since I was 12, and it’s part of my soul. I know the wind and know where to move.”

Dodd said San Diego is a great place for the two-man professional teams to play, but it’s not the place to get Triple-A competition on the main court.

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So, it’s clear. Master the game up the coast. Party in San Diego.

Even though it has a professional league, the atmosphere at San Diego beach volleyball matches is similar to that of over-the-line tournaments.

Fun, sun, surf, booze and girls.

“It’s a unique scene,” Dodd said. “People are drinking and screaming and having a wild party by Sunday afternoon. The impression of the sport is that it is the ultimate, decadent, California life style.”

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That’s a pretty accurate impression.

On their biographical sheets, the San Diego professional players were asked to name their hobbies. Of the seven who even answered the questionnaire, five replied, “girls.”

“The life style is kind of ideal,” said Santa Monica’s Singin Smith, who was a four-time All-American at UCLA and is a member of the No. 1 doubles team with Randy Stoklos. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Dodd, who played the real game in Italy and was on the U.S. National team in 1984 and ’85, said he would prefer playing beach volleyball rather than the six-man indoor game.

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“It’s fun being outdoors and on the beach,” Dodd said, “and playing in the sand is much better for your body. In beach volleyball, there is no one else to blame. You and your partner carry the play.”

There is no coach. At least, not yet.

“In years to come, I think individual teams will have coaches,” Smith said. “Now, friends and relatives relay tendencies to you while they watch.”

The beach game welcomes savvy, quickness and crude athletic ability as much as polished technique.

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Dodd said it takes good indoor players at least a year before they become adequate beach players. Dannevik believes that only a small percentage of players excel at both. He feels that making the switch from the outdoor game to the structured indoor game is akin to going from playing three-on-three to full-court basketball.

“The beach game only takes two or three of the aspects of regular volleyball,” Dannevik said. “Volleyball is almost secondary, and that’s too bad because these guys are really good.”

But they are especially good in Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach.


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