Pacific Palisades, California, USA, May 7, 2020 - It has been nearly 20 years since Sinjin Smith has played in a competitive tournament featuring the world's elite players, but the legendary American beach volleyball performer is still active in the sport he loves as he celebrates his 63rd birthday today.
In addition to supervising events for the FIVB, Smith founded and runs BeachVolleyballcamps.com, NCSVA.com and a club on the beach for high school girls wanting to play in college and on the pro tour. A board member for the California Beach Volleyball Association and president of Sports and Entertainment for Kingofthebeach.com, Smith is also a partner with Rallyvb.com that runs outdoor events in Georgia (Atlanta) and Alabama (Huntsville).
Smith, who played in his first recorded competitive event in May 1977 with another American beach volleyball icon Ron Von Hagen, has been involved in the management side of the sport since the mid-1980s when he served as the president of the American domestic tour (AVP).
“Since the mid-1980s, I have been both a player and administrator in the sport,” said Smith. “I helped start the American domestic tour before getting involved with the World Tour as the president of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Council. I played a role in getting the sport into the Olympic Games as well as playing in the Atlanta Summer Games.”
As a player, Smith teamed with Randy Stoklos to compete together in 12 of the first 21 FIVB World Tour events from February 1987 through February 1993 where the pair topped the podium 10 times with 11 medals and 12 semifinal appearances. In addition to winning five (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992) of the first seven World Championship Invitationals in Rio de Janeiro, Smith and Stoklos also captured the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic test event in 1992 at Almeria, Spain.
Randy Stoklos (left) and Sinjin Smith being interviewed at an event in 2015 on Copacabana in Rio
Recognised as one of beach volleyball's all-time great teams, Smith and Stoklos teamed for the first time in July 1982 with their partnership continuing through May 9, 1993 when the pair placed fourth at an event in San Antonio, Texas. During that 12-year stretch, Smith and Stoklos competed in 238 domestic and international events with 114 titles, 174 championship matches, 214 final fours and 231 quarterfinal appearances
Smith and Stoklos also became the first $1- and $2-million earners in beach volleyball history and have since been joined in the record books by American pairs Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh Jennings, Karch Kiraly/Kent Steffes, Phil Dalhausser/Todd Rogers and Jen Kessy/April Ross, and the Brazilian tandems of Juliana Felisberta/Larissa Franca, Shelda Bede/Adriana Behar and Emanuel Rego/Ricardo Santos.
Emanuel Rego (left) of Brazil and Sinjin Smith
"One of the hardest things you can go through," Smith said about the ending of his partnership with Stoklos. "I am sure it must be like going through a divorce. After playing for over 10 years and being the most successful team in the history of the sport and the FIVB team of the decade for the 1980s, I was hurting physically. Randy felt like he could do better with a new partner. I don’t begrudge him for moving on.”
Following the 1993 season, Smith took nine months off for some "well needed surgery. The surgery fixed a serious problem and I decided to give it another go. I came back stronger and qualified for the Atlanta Olympics with a talented volleyball player (Carl Henkel) that lacked experience on the beach. After having a good show at the 1996 Olympics, I was convinced that Randy and I would have won the gold when I was 39 years old. I went on to play for another five years and barely missed qualifying for the Olympics in 2000."
With his career spanning 25 years (1977-2001) with participation in 419 domestic and international events with 139 titles, Smith played in the first international exhibition in Brazil in 1986. “It was such a huge success that the promoter asked me to join him in approaching the FIVB to propose a World Tour sanctioned by the international federation,” said Smith. "The plan was approved, and the first World Championship Invitational was held the next year where Randy and I topped the podium."
As one of the founders and original players on the international circuit, Smith "helped write" the first handbook for FIVB events. "I was in a unique position to be a player and also behind the development of the sport worldwide," said Smith. "I had previously done the same thing with the AVP as one of the original founders and its president. This of course led to me working with the FIVB to make beach volleyball an Olympic sport."
As both an administrator and player, Smith said he "was in a great position to play an integral part in the development of the sport. With the FIVB's backing, I was able to speak directly with the IOC president and its members to lobby for beach volleyball. I also played in a special international event in 1992 in Spain that showcased beach volleyball for the IOC."
All three of Smith’s sons are active in volleyball and beach volleyball. Smith’s oldest son Hagen followed in his footsteps and played collegiately at UCLA where he wore his father’s retired number (22) in volleyball. Son Stanton is graduating from CSUN this year and plays on the beach. Sinjin Jr. attends at Call Poly San Luis Obispo where he helps Olympic and world champion Todd Rogers with the women’s beach volleyball team.
The Smith family in 2017
"The last few years, I have played with my sons and wife (Patty) at the beach on Christmas eve along with participating in an occasional exhibition,” said Smith. “I have played in a four-person event with my sons in Mexico. What a treat. I have also played with the Hov (Tim Hovland) at his beach with his local four-man crew."
"I am incredibly lucky to have played when I did,” said Smith. "I couldn’t have asked for anything more in an athletic career or a job or even in a dream!"