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Comfortable in 2 Courts--This Lawyer Lives for the Competition : Beach Volleyball: Robert Chavez has been on the pro circuit for 13 years, but he's not in it for the money.

August 13, 1992|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Robert Chavez has played pro beach volleyball for 13 years and the lure of winning a share of nearly $3 million a year in prize money has never entered the picture.

Chavez, who makes six figures annually as a Long Beach trial lawyer, plays pro beach volleyball because he loves the game.

It isn't easy to dangle the two pursuits. The Playa del Rey native says finding time to practice can be tough and in order to travel to the weekly tournaments he must work long hours at the office.

He says it's hectic, but a lot of fun.

"There's no pressure because it's not like I have to win or I can't pay rent," Chavez said. "After all these years I'm out there for fun. I don't have a lot of free time to practice."

The former USC All-American trains with his coach, David Denitz, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. twice a week. Most days after work he plays at Marine Avenue in Manhattan Beach.

"It's such a pleasure working with Robert because he's so dedicated," said Denitz, who competed on the pro tour from 1976 to 1985. "He's not satisfied with mediocrity. He has a great work ethic."

Chavez, a setter and hitter on USC's 1980 NCAA championship team, says though he often dreads training after a long day at work, it provides a great balance in his life.

"It's good because mentally I need a rest," he said. "But a lot of days it's tough to get motivated. I'd love to just go and have a drink and sit and relax after work rather than play volleyball."

Last month Chavez got back from a tournament in Chicago late on a Sunday night. He was up at 6:30 a.m. that Monday to ride his stationary bike, was in court at Santa Monica by 8:30 a.m., then went to his Long Beach office for the remainder of the day.

He changed from a three-piece suit to shorts and a tank top in his black BMW on the way to Marine Avenue, where he trained with partner Doug Foust from about 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Less than an hour later he attended an Assn. of Volleyball Professionals board meeting in Culver City. Chavez, 31, is also the executive vice president of the AVP.

"He is one of the most disciplined persons in the world," said his sister, Elizabeth Chavez, who competes on the women's pro beach tour. "He works out when he has to. It's hard for him because he wishes he could play all day on the beach like the rest of those guys. But mentally he overcomes it. He doesn't allow that to interfere. "

Chavez was involved with beach volleyball before the AVP was formed, when players competed for a free dinner and later $100 in prize money. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete has teamed up with many of the game's top names. In the 1980s he played with Tim Hovland, Steve Timmons and Steve Rottman.

Chavez's highest AVP ranking was in 1986 (No. 12) when he teamed up with Rottman for third place at Manhattan Beach, fourth at Zuma Beach, fourth in Chicago and fifth at the World Championships in Redondo Beach.

He was in law school at USC during some of those events and studying for the California Bar exam during others.

"Everyone else was so stressed out about exams and I'm playing volleyball in Florida," said Chavez, the second-youngest of six children. "It was great."

Chavez was hurt for most of 1987 and 1988. Coming back was tough because he lost his No. 12 seeding and he had to face top-ranked teams in early rounds. He is currently ranked 31st in the AVP and has earned more than $14,000.

That pales in comparison to some of the top players on the tour, like Kent Steffes (more than $140,000 in winnings) or Karch Kiraly (more than $109,000). Still, this has been the best season for Chavez since 1986. A solid defensive player, he has placed fifth in two tournaments with Foust. The first time was in San Antonio on May 17, after an 11-10 overtime loss to second-ranked Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos.

Nicknamed "Kings of the Beach," Smith and Stoklos have been beach volleyball's team to beat for the past 10 years. Yet, Chavez and Foust got revenge, 14-10, on center court in a tournament in hot and humid Chicago. They went on to place fifth and earned $3,000 each.

Foust credits Chavez for guiding the team to the victory. "He's just a real steady all-around player," Foust said. "And he loves to talk. He loves to argue with the ref and he gets the crowd going. He also tries to talk the other team out of their game and sometimes it works."

Chavez says beating Smith-Stoklos for the first time marked the highlight of his career.

"I can't tell you how happy I was," Chavez said. "I don't play for the money, but there's not a better feeling than when I win. I was so high, so full of energy. That's what keeps me going. I can't get that energy anywhere else."

Not even in the courtroom. He says winning a big case, which often involves millions of dollars, doesn't compare with the feeling he gets after upsetting a top-notch team in front of thousands of rowdy fans.

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