For Outdoor Volleyball Ace Sinjin Smith, Going to Work Is a Day at the Beach
08/31/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT
King of the Beach, they call him. But Christopher St. John "Sinjin" Smith, the world's best outdoor volleyball player, is not your average, stuffy monarch. When Smith's subjects want to get close to him—and that's often—his majesty generally obliges. "One time this girl in a bikini was all oiled up. She came over after a tournament and asked me to sign her," Smith says. "Well, the pen kept sliding off the oil, so she pulled up her bikini bottom, and I had to sign her white rear end."
Ah, the trials of life at the top. But you can hardly blame the "volley dollies," as he calls his female fans. At 6'3", with piercing baby blues and a flawless, bronzed, 185-lb. physique that is rarely fully clothed, Smith makes Don Johnson look like a wimp. And then, of course, there's the way Smith, 30, can handle a volleyball. In the past 10 years he has won 77 outdoor volleyball tournaments and three world championships. While the other 80 or so beach volleyball pros made less than $15,000 in prize money last season, Smith, playing with his partner of the past five years, Randy Stoklos, 26, won more than $60,000 and pocketed another $140,000 through product endorsements.
Once a game played for fun around the beaches of Sinjin's hometown of Santa Monica, outdoor volleyball has lately become a more serious competitive sport. Crowds of 30,000 or more showed up at 26 national tournaments this year, media coverage has expanded dramatically, and Miller Lite beer and Jose Cuervo tequila now sponsor matches. Unlike the more familiar indoor volleyball, there are only two players per team in beach volleyball, rather than six. "Specialists can't make it on the beach," says Smith. "You have to be able to pass, set, spike and play defense." He admits to proficiency at all three. "Weaknesses? I have no weaknesses," he once told an ESPN reporter.
Why should he bother with modesty? On the sands or off, Smith excels at everything he tries. A part-time model since 1981, he has flexed his perfect pecs in GQ, Vogue and Playboy. He owns a Santa Monica clothing store, Smithers, with his brother Andrew, 29, also a top model and pro beachballer. The two are investing their earnings in real estate. Even acting proved a snap for Sinjin. After hawking practically everything from Coca-Cola to Del Monte fruit snacks on national TV, he appeared last season in a Magnum P.I. episode as, natch, the volleyball partner of noted netman Tom Selleck.
Almost from infancy, young Sinjin (the British pronunciation for "St. John") displayed that go-getter spirit. "He was always a lot more competitive than the rest of my kids," says his mother, Mary Lou, a former high school coach, whose sports included vollleyball. (His father, Frank, a college math professor, died when Sinjin was 17.) He earned a degree in economics at UCLA, but says he devoted most of his energies to "volleyball and coeds. If my dad had lived, I might have spent more time studying."
Father may not have known best. Sinjin left UCLA with two NCAA indoor volleyball championships under his belt and was headed for the Moscow Olympics in 1980 when the boycott came along. He never made it to the 1984 Olympics in his own L.A. backyard because then-Olympic coach Doug Beal booted him off the team for what Beal calls "obnoxious, disruptive behavior." No sweat, Sinjin says. He simply hit the beach. "I liked the beach game better anyway," he says.
Glamorous as they seem, Beach King Smith's days are not so different from those of the unsandy masses. He works hard, and he lives in Mom's converted garage, which he has crammed with volleyball trophies. "The weekends in pro beach volleyball can be grueling," he says, moaning of eight-hour days. He relaxes by surfing and playing tennis with his girlfriend of two years, model Patty Robinson, 24. And what of the endless swarms of tanned groupies? Smith isn't really that type. "With all those girls clamoring around him, people think my handsome son is always out catting about," says his mother. "But he's not. He's at home watching TV with his mother."