p1440: Hagen Smith, Steve Irvin

p1440 Developmental Program: Hagen Smith, Steven Irvin

There’s a fascinating paradox when it comes to beach volleyball and, to a greater extent, life in general: The closer one becomes with their partner, the harder on them they are permitted to become. When the comfort level with one another reaches that threshold of brutal honesty, to the point that, in the case of Hagen Smith and Steve Irvin, sometimes you might trash talk your partner more than you trash talk your opponents.

“I remember at Stanford, whenever we’d play UCLA there was this little tiny setter that everyone was hitting straight OT on,” said Irvin, who played outside hitter for Stanford. And that “little tiny setter” he was referencing? His own partner, the one with whom he had competed in p1440 San Jose and Huntington Beach, finishing 13th and 3rd, respectively.

“As I recall, there were these two outsides, Brian Cook and some other guy,” Smith said, grinning. “It was [Steve]. It was just house, house, house, ‘Oh, line’s open?’ House. 15-13 in the fifth, I think it was?”

Irvin laughed, shrugged.

“With little setters, they’re really sneaky blocks, because I’m probably at 10 feet looking down, don’t see him and try to go for the glory. He got some soft blocks, I don’t know if he ever roofed a ball.”

Such is the relationship of the most physical team in the p1440 Developmental Program. They can be this way with one another because they’ve played together since the days of the “good old Sinjin Smith beach volleyball camps,” Smith said, “producing, hopefully, soon to be legends of the game.”

Hagen’s last name, while common in American society, is an exalted one in the beach volleyball world. It is not breaking news that his father is the Sinjin Smith of those beach volleyball camps, the man who played an integral role in the founding of the AVP and FIVB tours, who helped usher beach volleyball into the Olympics, who won nearly 140 sanctioned tournaments and who knows how many others.

“I’d travel around with him and whenever he’d finish, whether he won or lost I’d just be stoked to run on the court, hug him and be surrounded by the crowd,” Hagen said. “Me and my two brothers, we just kinda fell into it. Hard not to. And he’s been there for guidance if we want it from him. If not, he’s been letting us bloom into our own.”

They’re blooming just fine. Hagen ran a 6-2 with Micah Ma’a at UCLA, same as his father did with Karch Kiraly in his. Hagen would graduate ranked fourth in UCLA history in assists and sixth in digs. Within a year of graduation, he was qualifying on the AVP Tour with USC’s Lucas Yoder, making main draws in San Francisco, where he finished ninth, and Hermosa Beach where, this time with Travis Mewhirter, he took 13th.

Irvin’s path to the beach wasn’t quite as direct. Hailing from a family with “like, six national championships, except for me,” Irvin grew up on the beach but played well enough at Stanford to land three years of contracts overseas.

“I thought three years was enough,” he said. To the beach he went, playing four AVPs – Huntington Beach, Austin, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach – before getting picked up by Smith to close the year in San Jose and p1440 Huntington Beach. Within seven months of giving up indoor, Irvin made a Sunday, meeting Brazilian Alvaro Filho and German Alexander Walkenhorst in the semifinals in Huntington Beach.

Now it’s onto year two for Irvin and Smith, who will continue to trash talk one another and, perhaps because of their ability to be so transparently candid, continue to succeed and develop at a rate few others currently are.

“A lot of time spent drilling, a lot of time spent in the gym,” Smith said. “Just getting as much training time as we can.”

Other Developmental Program teams:

Sasha Karelov and Lauren DeTurk: Timing is everything with beach volleyball partnerships

Kacey Losik and Logan Webber: When simply making main draw isn’t enough

Heather Friesen and Kristen Petrasic: No bad days

Chris Austin and Kris Johnson: The indoor powers with limitless upside

Lacey Fuller, Jessica McGuire: The Penn State libero meets the UCLA rower

Jay Panther, Cody Caldwell: The near-Olympic skier and the National Champ

Chloe Crappell, Carissa Whalen: Discovering community through beach volleyball

Travis Mewhirter, Myles Muagututia: The smoothest athlete on the beach

Madison Willis, McKenna Thibodeau: Let your personality shine

Victoria Dennis, Nora Darrhar: A partnership grounded in gratitude

John Schwengel, Aidan Brown: The youngsters looking to make the leap

Tomas Salava, Martin Mach: Giving this beach thing a shot

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