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Beach Volleyball Impressions - 1981 from southern California to now in south Florida

Beach Majors Company CEO Hannes Jagerhofer (left) talks with Phil Collin to fill in the veteran southern California writer on the "now" of Beach Volleyball.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla., October 3, 2015 - It’s a journey that started in August of 1981 and appropriately, it was on the sands of Manhattan Beach, Calif. The legendary Manhattan Beach Open Beach Volleyball tournament was finishing with a surprise. The ageless Jim Menges was teaming with 20-year-old Randy Stoklos in the biggest event in the sport. Seeded sixth, the duo beat top-seeded Andy Fishburn and Dane Selznick in the final of a tournament that had a purse of a grand total of $5,000 As a 19-year-old, it was the first Beach Volleyball tournament I covered. From there, the lure of working a weekend on the beach a few times a summer sounded just fine. And nobody had a clue what awaited in the years ahead. At that time, an international tournament meant players from the South Bay region of Los Angeles County - Manhattan, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach - facing players from the Westside, namely State Beach in Santa Monica. Along came the legends of Stoklos and Sinjin Smith. Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd. Karch Kiraly emerged from the far north in Santa Barbara, though his time with the U.S. national team kept him from making a real early impact on the beach. Thirty-four years later, here I am in South Florida in a massive stadium watching the best players from all over the world take aim at the $100,000 first prize in the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals. It’s mind-boggling. And who do I run into? One Randy Stoklos, winner of 122 (123 if you believe the hat he’s wearing, but who’s counting? Beach Volleyball has nothing if not legends that grow with time). “Certainly it is exciting to see these types of events being put on and the professionalism that exists around the world and more importantly the love – somebody’s not going to get behind something if they don’t love what they’re seeing,” Stoklos said. “That in itself is a great thing that’s happening. “But let’s turn back the page and look at days gone past, and look at those moments of the cars driving up in the parking lot and turning on the headlights so we can finish off a match at Manhattan. Those are the types of moments that are ever sketched in our minds and are moments if you were there, you cherish greatly because there was nothing like it to this day. “But that was the passion that was running so deep in everybody’s minds and everybody’s blood that the game was played between four players that was truly about being the king of the beach, being the dominant player of that area and everybody else knew that.” Now you play for worldwide acclaim and from the other side of the Atlantic, the momentum built. Italian Angelo Squeo served the first European ball, and then came Klagenfurt and a man named Hannes Jagerhofer. The Austrian promoter put on a beach volleyball event in his home country and admitted it was an experiment. “When I started Klagenfurt, I thought after five years it’s done,’ said Jagerhofer, Beach Majors Company CEO. “I couldn’t convince at first the sponsors to give me the money I need because the budget I need is high because you have to build everything on the green. “Now after 20 years still getting new sponsors. Eighty percent of our sponsors have been with us for 18 years. It’s an amazing commitment.” Klagenfurt is the event in Europe. Fans sleep in line overnight to get a seat. They get loud and they don’t leave until they’re told. Now, players travel the world in search of Olympic qualification, money, pride, glory, fun. Americans have to leave the domestic Association of Volleyball Professionals tour to join the worldwide family in the same chase. The SWATCH Major Series is Jagerhofer’s domain – he and Red Bull share it 50-50 - and there is more to come. The World Tour Finals is his first American event, but he promises more. Yet he is keeping a sharp eye on putting on an event in the U.S. with a European twist while maintaining the sensibilities of the local culture. Maybe it clashes at first, but Fort Lauderdale is showing that the fundamental of the competition and fun at a tournament are melding and perhaps making the Beach Volleyball world a more tight-knit community. The sport needs it with the number of acronyms trying to accommodate the fans from FIVB, AVP, IOC, USOC, USAVB, etc. “Of course. Klagenfurt is more tennis-style than what you’re used to have with Beach Volleyball like in Santa Monica, the people sitting on the sand close to the courts,” Jagerhofer said. “We maybe make more of a spectacle, make it bigger, yes, but what we don’t want to do is to like bring concepts and all this stuff where things aren’t related anymore to Beach Volleyball. “We want entertainment on the sand with the players, audience, music. This is the Klagenfurt concept. The people love to be entertained, they love to stay, they forget their problems at home, they are just partying in the stadium. This is the key of success.” So is the player-fan relationship. In few other sports can you reach out and touch players before a match, shake hands, get pictures and autographs. “I think it is very important,” Jagerhofer said. “After the match the players come to the press corner and the fans are there and they love to touch them. The athletes in Beach Volleyball are really nice people, they are well educated “The thing is the spirit. They are friends, they go against each other so many times. There is never aggression on the court. This is why I love to work together with them.” We can only wonder what’s next. In 2016, it will be a frenzy with the Olympic chase and the Rio 2016 Games themselves. And prepare for a bigger SWATCH FIVB Major Series. Jagerhofer hopes to have to U.S. stops, East Coast and West Coast. San Diego, anyone? Stoklos is not shy in making suggestions to anyone who will listen, from FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F° on down. And he knows the bottom line to his sport. “The sport has something that is the same today as it was then – you’ve got the players who are well conditioned athletes, usually pretty good looking, and then the girls along with it,” Stoklos said. “The girls come down to see the guys, the guys come down to see the girls, and it is the same way around the world now. “We have the sexiest sport going, bar none. There is nothing sexier than beach volleyball.”


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