Sinjin Smith. Possibly the best player in pro beach volleyball history, the same guy who picked up a check for $20,500 at Hermosa Beach last weekend.
But probably not the most popular player in the South Bay.
Although Smith and 10-year partner Randy Stoklos proved their dominance in last weekend’s $200,000 Miller Lite USA Championships at Hermosa Beach, Smith still apparently has something to prove to local fans.
An estimated 25,000--largest crowd in the sport’s history--encircled center court next to Hermosa Pier for Sunday’s final between Smith-Stoklos and Karch Kiraly-Brent Frohoff.
The vast majority of fans were pulling for Frohoff, the popular local boy who grew up near Hermosa Pier.
Smith and Stoklos won the championship match, 15-11.
But between points, Smith--of Pacific Palisades--was barraged with taunts of “Sinjin who?” and “locals only” and Stoklos was peppered with chants of his middle name (Randolph Piermont Stoklos).
Then Smith--for years beach volleyball’s foremost spokesman and promoter--lost his cool, with several outbursts in a classic John McEnroe style.
More than once, Smith walked to the side of the court to point his finger and shout back at his hecklers while Kiraly and Frohoff impatiently waited for play to resume.
When it did, Smith was booed after hitting a successful put-away. And his opponents--especially Frohoff--were cheered wildly for every point or side-out they made.
Smith’s oral sparring with fans was carried out in front of NBC’s cameras. The USA Championships will be aired Saturday.
In the interview tent after the match, Smith offered little explanation.
“I think I was just looking for something to fire me up,” Smith said.
Reminded that the winning team’s share of $41,000--the richest purse in the sport’s history--might be incentive enough, Smith demurred, blaming friends of Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour director Matt Gage for the heckling.
“It’s pretty sad when the AVP tour director can’t control his friends,” he said.
Stoklos and Frohoff have never been the best of friends, but even the powerfully built Stoklos said he was a bit upset by his partner’s behavior.
“I think it was just some South Bay guys who hang out with Brent,” Stoklos said. “It’s been going on for years. I’ve heard it all before and it doesn’t bother me. But I was kind of disappointed that Sinjin reacted to the comments and took it outside the court. We had the door closed on the match and that just opened it up again.”
Others, like two-time Olympian Kiraly, said they felt Smith’s actions were a dark spot on what might have been beach volleyball’s brightest day.
“Smith and Stoklos are the best players on the beach, but they also have the biggest rabbit ears of anyone,” Kiraly said. “Those two guys in particular hear everything the crowd says. They’re very picky about what sounds the crowd at a professional sporting event can make. They’re also the only ones that have the gall to actually pick people out of the beach.”
Although it was the muscular play of Stoklos that carried the team down the stretch in Sunday’s final, Stoklos was largely ignored when the awards were handed out at the AVP’s black tie appreciation dinner on Monday night.
Smith and Stoklos set a circuit-best record for prize money in a season, hauling in $221,437 apiece. They also won 12 tournaments--twice as many as any other team.
But neither member of the sport’s most dominant team received the AVP’s most-valuable-player award.
That coveted distinction went to Kiraly, who attended the black-tie dinner with his expectant wife, Janna.
Kiraly was also named the tour’s best offensive player. Smith received the best defensive player award.
The first Ron Von Hagen Award--presented to the tour’s most underrated player--went to Roger Clark. Mike Whitmarsh, who took a third-place finish with AVP President Jon Stevenson at Seal Beach, was the tour’s rookie of the year. Wally Goodrick was named most improved player.
Sportsman of the year? Not Smith or Stoklos, either. That award went to Larry Mear.
South Bay residents Frohoff, Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd found themselves shut out at the awards ceremony, but not at the bank.
The charismatic Frohoff, who ditched his black tie early into Monday night’s festivities, finished fourth on the tour in prize money with $114,000--his second consecutive $100,000-plus year--behind only Smith, Stoklos, and his own partner Kiraly ($120,125).
Hovland, who finished the season with 22-year-old Kent Steffes, ended up with $104,168. Dodd, Hovland’s longtime partner until late in the season, earned $87,268--the AVP’s seventh-highest figure.
Most of beach volleyball’s best players--including Smith, Stoklos, Frohoff, Kiraly, Hovland, Steffes, and Andrew Smith--will be playing in the Great Western Team Cup Volleyball tournament at the Forum on six dates from Sept. 6-23.
Four teams of six players each will be competing in the annual indoor event, drafted from a pool of 28 players.
Other competitors will include former U.S. gold medalists Troy Tanner, Pat Powers, Jon Root, Jeff Stork, Scott Fortune, and Bob Ctvrtlik.
A pair of South Bay surfers finished 17th in the $50,000 Croakies Surf Classic VI at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach on Aug. 15-19.
Redondo Beach’s Scott Daley and rookie Nick Brown of Manhattan Beach each earned $325 in the event. Daley improved his ranking to 28th on the Professional Surfing Assn. of America tour.
In the bodyboarding competition at Surfrider Beach, Kalani Kahalioumi of Torrance finished in ninth place, good enough for $250. Kahalioumi is the Body Glove Bodyboard Division’s 12th-ranked pro.
The next PSAA event will be the $100,000 Body Glove Surf Bout III at Lower Trestles at Camp Pendleton on Sept. 4-9. More than 250 surfers will compete for the first-place prize of $30,000--one of the highest purses in American surfing history.