The Big Game Hunters. That’s what they’d call themselves.
Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos and Brent Frohoff and Karch Kiraly could have the Rhode Islands. They could have Dallas. They could have Phoenix.
But the big ones? No, no. They couldn’t have those. Those — five Manhattan Beach Opens in a row, for instance — were reserved for Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd.
“We’d win Manhattan, Hermosa, the Cuervos,” Hovland said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “We had a lot of finals together, that’s for sure.”
Eighty-one finals, to be exact. In 150 tournaments played together. A remarkable success rate for one of the most legendary and well-known partnerships in the game’s history.
You can still find those boys together. They commentate on livestreams together. They play fours and sixes together in Hermosa Beach. They talk trash together.
“Can’t hit like we used to,” Hovland said. “But we go out there, lip them off the court, make them feel bad. Then destroy them on the dialogue. There’s been crying out there. A couple of guys never came back. It’s fantastic.”
Sixty years young. Same old Hov.
That was his thing. He was loud. He was brash. He had swagger. He knew he was going to beat you and he wasn’t going to hesitate to let you know it.
“We showed up, we worked hard at it,” Hovland said. “We’d play all day. We’d get down there at 10 in the morning, we’d get our court at Marine, we wouldn’t lose a game, we would take pride in beating everybody down there, and everybody would come to us. We’d play seven hours of volleyball, hard games, and that was just normal. If you did that, you’d have to play seven hours on a Sunday to win an open, and these guys weren’t in that kind of shape, even though we were going out and running around. We were in great shape, and we’re bigger, faster, stronger than most of the guys anyway. They weren’t ready.”
There was one team, for the most part, who always was: Smith and Stoklos, perhaps the only AVP partnership with more sustained success than Hovvy-Dodd. In the first five seasons of the AVP’s existence, from 1984-1988, they met in the finals 43 times. In ’87, seven consecutive tournaments featured Smith-Stoklos vs. Hovland-Dodd in the finals.
“It’s kinda like the old Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers,” Hovland said in a previous interview. “You’re going to get through these other guys. They might get you once in a while, but very rarely. And when they did, you go through the loser’s bracket, and you’re only going to get better and better, because you’re playing more games and you’re not going to get tired. So we just had more determination. We worked harder. That’s the damn truth.”
He’s seen every iteration and change and version of beach volleyball one can imagine. He’s seen the bikini contests during tournaments. He’s played under side out scoring. He’s played under rally. He’s played with a clock. He’s trained like a typical 9-5 work day – get to Marine Street, win games until one or two, grab lunch, win games until five, call it a day.
It’s a different world now, for better or worse. He loves the development of the international game, talent he was able to see, first hand, commentating at p1440 Las Vegas and Huntington Beach.
“It’s apples and oranges,” he said. “The game was so pure before. There’s some great athletes out there. It’ll just get better and better… These Norwegian guys are flat out good. These Russian kids can play. It’s a different time.”
Indeed it seems it is. The Norwegians, Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, are the Big Game Hunters now. The trash talk is fading. Some things change. Some things change. Some things don’t.
“I’ve been all over the world,” Hovland said. “But right here, the South Bay, is the best place in the world.”
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