Consider beach volleyball. Burned-out surfers playing in a sandbox. A recreation, a soft sport, more of a pastime with Tom Selleck as its patron saint. If injuries be any measure of machismo, then beach volleyball must surely be more aesthetic than athletic.
"Wrong," says Randy Stoklos of Santa Monica. "I've sprained both ankles, broken both ankles, cracked a rib and broken my nose. Rotator cuff problems are common. There's jumper's knee, lower back strains . . . all from this non-contact, sissy game of beach volleyball."
But maybe you're a klutz felled by too much fajita pizza.
"Nope. Off-season it is weight training. On season we run and sprint two or three miles and play three to six hours a day. The physical stress of volleyball can be compared to running a marathon every weekend . . . and running in soft sand for eight hours a day is much tougher than being a lineman for the NFL."
For what? For a six-pack of California Cooler and a Coppertone T-shirt?
"At this point, with partner Sinjin Smith, we're the No. 1 players in the world. Frankly, the money I'm making in professional volleyball is a better living than I make as president of my father's company building stereo speakers.
"Last year I earned $60,000 in prize money. That's only the start. There's sponsorship to wear patches and clothing, volleyball camps, you know, 'How to Win at Beach Volleyball With Randy Stoklos,' and endorsing products from sandals to glasses to suntan lotion to orthopedic equipment.
"I figure in the next three to five years you will see $100,000 tournaments and I should be earning over six figures in prize money on the circuit."
Circuit, schmircuit. From Malibu to Huntington Beach with a pre-season exhibition tour to Santa Barbara, right?
"A little further than that. This year's pro beach volleyball series will travel to 26 cities in 12 states and that includes inland tournaments in Colorado and Arizona because you play this game wherever you can import sand.
"We've played in Hawaii. In February, Sinjin and I won a world championship in Brazil. It's a developing sport in Italy. Sometime in the next couple of months we're going to Japan for exhibitions."
But who watches these exhibitions? Four guys with dibs on the court, a bored lifeguard and a couple of retirees waiting for the shuffleboard courts to dry?
"The sport has generated interest to such a level that at practically any tournament we play, you can't put any more people on the beach. At Pacific Palisades this weekend we expect between 30,000 and 40,000 people. ESPN will cover six tournaments; Prime Ticket will cover five. At the world championships in Brazil they built a stadium on Ipanema Beach and we were getting 20,000 people a match."
For a pastime with an excitement factor two yawns short of rotation marbles?
"Last weekend at Hermosa Beach it was Smith and Stoklos against Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd. All members of the national team, all world champions and it was like the Lakers versus the Celtics. They would go ahead. We were constantly coming back, point for point until we won. The crowd went wild."
Like Becker and Doohan? Hagler and Leonard?
Yet what future for any aging, over-the-dune volleyball player from a junior sport that doesn't even have a Hall of Fame?
"I'm 26 now and can probably play competitively until I'm 32. I don't worry as long as I continue to improve. Last year Sinjin and I won 16 of the tour's 23 tournaments. This year we've played 11 and won eight. So there's a long way to go and a lot of money to earn."
But what of tomorrow?
"I do commercials and have three on the air. Pepsi Light. Burger King. California Cooler. My agent is Abrams, Rubiloff and Lawrence . . . "
I give. Good luck today and Sunday. Break a wrist.
The $20,000 Miller Lite Pro Volleyball Tournament at Will Rogers State Beach, Pacific Palisades, today and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.