Andrew Smith, the younger brother of Sinjin, competed on the AVP tour from the mid '80s to the late '90s, while also maintaining his successful modeling career. In this article from May 1997, he reflects on his relationship with his brother and their differing philosophies on volleyball and on life.
The courtyard dining area of the Brentwood Mart is hopping with the noontime lunch crowd. A few bites into his turkey sandwich, Andrew Smith looks up from the picnic table and spots Randy Stoklos walking in with his wife, two-year-old daughter, and baby boy.
It has only been a few days since Smith returned from a surfing vacation in Mexico. A week before that he was in Idaho skiing with beach volleyball great Ron Von Hagen, and before that he was in New York on a modeling shoot.
Stoklos gets in line to order, and his wife, Carrie, comes over and begins talking to Andrew about Andrew’s new nephew, who was born a week earlier to his brother, Sinjin, and his wife, Patty.
“His name is maybe going to be Langdon,” she says. Andrew laughs, and says: “Oh nooo.” Langdon, of course, would be a derivative of Lang, as in Ron Lang, the beach volleyball champion of the ‘60s. Sinjin’s first son is named Hagen after Von Hagen.
“Lang and Hagen,” Andrew says. “What if he wants to play golf?”
A minute later, Andrew says he plans to give his firstborn an exotic name. He is asked if that name will come from a volleyball player.
“No, I’m not going to do that,” he says. “See, that tells you about Sinjin. It’s just all volleyball. I’m not that way.”
Andrew was born a year and 15 days after Sinjin, the sixth in a family of seven kids. He and Sinjin got a similar start to their volleyball careers: shagging balls for Von Hagen and playing in their backyard, where the Smith kids and their friends would gather when it got too windy at the beach. Early in their careers, Andrew and Sinjin actually teamed up for a handful of tournaments and did fairly well, making it to one final. But since then their paths have taken very different directions, which reflects the difference not only in their approach to volleyball but their approach to life. Their partnership ended because Sinjin was looking for a higher intensity level than Andrew was giving.
“I have the ability to focus in and elevate that intensity over long periods of time,” Sinjin said recently. “Andrew definitely showed the intensity, but he didn’t show it time and time again.”
Andrew is quick to acknowledge this.
“[Sinjin’s] so stubborn on the court,” he says. “He’s got more of a will to win than anyone in the sport. The Olympics were a perfect example. Thirty-nine years old with a bad knee, and he was still competitive.”
In part, that explains why Sinjin has won 139 tournaments—more than anybody else—and Andrew has won only one. While Sinjin’s life has been saturated in volleyball, Andrew has pursued a career in modeling and also made a lot of time for things like rollerblading, mountain biking, surfing, and even skiing, which players often shy away from because of the injury potential. His philosophy is: “Your life’s gone if you start thinking about injuries. I mean, you could get injured driving a car to the beach.”
Andrew’s biggest diversion from volleyball has been his modeling career, which took off in the early ‘80s after a photographer snapped a few Polaroids of him at the beach. That led to a GQ cover, and he was soon one of the hot faces in the industry, a top model in the Ralph Lauren campaign. He got Sinjin into it for a while, too. Just recently, somebody came up to him in the supermarket and said he remembered him from that GQ cover 16 years ago.
Von Hagen, a longtime friend of the Smith family, thinks modeling has hurt Andrew’s chances to get better partners and win more tournaments, and he’s told him as much. Andrew agrees. But he decided long ago that it made sense for modeling to be his first priority because it was guaranteed income, and volleyball wasn’t.
Besides, he’s had a nice career on the beach. He was ranked 16th on the Miller Lite/AVP Tour in 1991 before slipped to 36th in ’92 after bouts with both hepatitis and tendinitis. Since then, he has climbed back up, steadily improving each year. Last season, at age 38, he finished 22nd.
His win came in 1989, when he and Dan Vrebalovich beat Sinjin and Randy in Miami Beach. By his estimating, he’s been in 10 or 15 other finals, but closing them out has been a problem. In 1986, he and Jon Stevenson were playing against Sinjin and Randy in the finals of the Manhattan Open. As Andrew recalls it, the score was 14-14 and then Sinjin and Randy got into with a heckler, and play was delayed.
“I stood around for, like, 15 minutes,” Andrew says.
A slight smile crosses the face of Stoklos, who has overheard the conversation from the next table, where he is working his way through a chicken sandwich.
“Don’t put that on me,” he says.
“Yeah, you were part of that,” Andrew says.
“I went along with it,” Stoklos says.
“You could have just said, ‘Sinjin, come on, let’s play.’”
A few minutes later, Andrew is talking about Sinjin and Randy’s habit of, in his words, “pimping the ref.” Andrew is usually quick with a smile, and his mannerisms are easygoing and have less of an edge than Sinjin’s, but there is some bite to his tone when he discusses the subject.
“They manipulated hundreds of things when they played against me, and there are tons of people who could verify that,” he says. “I’d just get frustrated that they would try all these antics to beat me.”
Comparing his game to his brother’s, Andrew says his style is less calculating, that he tends to just play. “Sinjin really thinks about what to do to win. He’s a great manipulator of the game in every way. He can mentally wear you out, his shooting can really frustrate you, his placement of serves, just everything.”
Former beach champion Matt Gage, who has played against both Smith brothers, thinks it’s unfair to saddle Andrew with comparisons to Sinjin. In his opinion—and rest assured, he is not the president of the Sinjin fan club—Sinjin has an ability to play without making mistakes that puts him in the company of three others in history: Von Hagen, Jim Menges, and Karch Kiraly.
“Andrew is physically talented and fundamentally strong,” Gage says. “I think he’s got as good a setting form as anybody who plays. But, like so many players, he wavers in and out a little bit. He’s still a very good player, but he probably doesn’t have that type of commitment and that type of drive to get to that very top level and stay there.”
What he does have the commitment to do is play two more years and continue getting a charge out of winning his share of matches against younger players—that is, everybody on the tour except Mike Dodd. And who knows, maybe his best partnership is still to come. Maybe Stoklos will give him a call with the idea of creating Smith-Stoklos, the next generation. Randy actually did ask him to play once last year, but it was late in the week, and Andrew didn’t want to scorch his regular partner, Mark Kerins.
Whatever happens, he plans to continue enjoying his multi-dimensional lifestyle. One of his favorite movie characters is James Bond. He’s always liked that image of a guy who travels the world and does all kinds of incredible stunts and has a great time.
“I’m not a playboy like he is, though,” he says, cracking a smile.
The lunch crowd at the Mart is thinning. Stoklos and his family have packed up and gone. Andrew begins talking about the unusual spot he’s in being the brother of a player who has often been at odds with the AVP. He says he gets the feeling a lot of times that people think he’s out there as a spy, feeding information to Sinjin.
“Anyone who knows me and knows Sinjin knows that’s not true, so it doesn’t bother me too much,” he says.
A few seconds go by, and he adds: “We aren’t really that close as brothers like most people think. I have my own separate life. He lives four or five blocks away, and I wouldn’t know what he’s doing today. For all I know, he might be in Brazil or something.”
He is asked if being in Sinjin’s shadow ever bothers him, and he says it doesn’t.
“Sinjin seeks publicity and really thrives on that, whereas I don’t,” he says. “It’s not something that I strive to have. I really don’t’ care if I’m recognized as the No. 1 volleyball player in the world or the King of the Beach or any of that stuff. What I get out of it is my own personal satisfaction, doing what I love doing, playing volleyball and competing. That’s enough for me.”
Originally published in May 1997