The brothers are edgy. they look back and forth at each other and glance out the window of their small house, as if to examine the condition of today's sunshine, which, this being Manhattan Beach, Calif., doesn't vary all that much from day to day. There is almost always sunshine, plenty of it. What makes the brothers edgy is that, at this very moment, they're not in it. "We really should be getting down to the office," says Brent Frohoff to their visitor. Chris, the younger brother, nods. There is not a cloud in the sky, the temperature is about 78°, it's 11 a.m. They should be at the office by now.
For the Frohoff brothers—the Fro Bros; Froe Broes is the way they say it—the office is a strand of beach some six blocks away. Brent punches in at the Marine Street volleyball courts, while Chris paddles out to the first break to test the surf for his day's work, presumably muttering, "It's a living," all the way. Brent, after all, is a featured player on the high-dollar pro beach volleyball tour, and Chris makes money on the Professional Surfing Association of America (PSAA) circuit. This really is just another day at the office, a day at the beach, and they're running late.
Only in Southern California? Perhaps. But even here, under all this blue sky, not many people plod to their jobs in either a wet suit or a pair of billowy shorts and a visor, with a volleyball tucked under arm.
The brothers are not unmindful of their luck; they are, in fact, astonished by their ability to make a handsome living at things they would be doing anyway. They sometimes talk of friends left behind, ticking off a sad roll call, as if this one had succumbed to drugs or that one to gang violence. "Some of them," they tell you, almost wincing, "are lawyers, students, contractors. They have real jobs."
July 21, 1991
The Frohoff brothers never have and, if their careers continue apace, never will. Last year Brent, 28, earned $119,175 in prize money, much of it as Karch Kiraly's partner on the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour. And, as in any other sport in which it is possible to cover your body in corporate logos, there is endorsement money as well. Brent says his prize winnings are almost equaled by money from sponsors.
Chris, 26, pursues a sport that is somewhat less mainstream and often less rewarding. For six years he competed on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour. In his best year, 1987, he ranked 26th, finishing third in the prestigious Pipeline Masters on Oahu's North Shore. Now he is competing in the smaller and more local PSAA, hoping to cut down on the demands of travel and increase his endorsement earnings. Just dabbling in the PSAA last year, he notched a quick win in the San Clemente Surf Classic. Chris says, modestly, "I've been able to make a little over the years." Last year he took home about $20,000 in prize money.
This concentration of good fortune, Southern California-style, under one roof—indeed, within one family—could be maddening to one inclined to envy. How did Brent and Chris achieve this state of well-paying, and apparently permanent, adolescence? There is no short answer. Certainly they didn't plan it; neither volleyball nor surfing had occupational promise when they took up the sports as preteens. Then again, they didn't do much to avoid it. Chris surfed on the amateur circuit with the National Scholastic Surfing Association team for three years when he was in high school, to the exclusion of nearly everything else. "It was my whole effort, surfing before school, surfing after school, every day," he says. "There wasn't time for anything else." There wasn't any money in it, either, and his only ambition was to surf all those great beaches he had seen in movies. Wouldn't it be great to surf the Pipeline? he would wonder.
Brent, by all accounts the better athlete of the two, dabbled in everything from soccer to baseball and, of course, surfing. "I surfed first," says Brent, "but I wasn't very good at it." He drifted into volleyball, first picking up a ball when he was eight years old, at a family picnic. "Now, that I was good at."
He made All-America in high school and honorable mention All-America at Loyola Marymount University, before he discovered he could make a living at the game.
It didn't hurt that the Frohoffs grew up on the beach, not far from where they live today. Their parents, Doug and Diane, spent most of their time on the sand, playing lots of volleyball themselves. In fact, just as in those old Beach Party movies, Doug and Diane met there. Did you ever wonder what kind of kids Gidget would have?
"The beach was our first date," says Doug. They were divorced in 1985, after 23 years of marriage, but their life-style has had an impact. "The beach," says Diane, "was an inexpensive way to vacation and to entertain ourselves."
The Fro Bros were lucky in this respect too: Their parents never pushed them into "normal jobs." Doug and Diane were the Frankie and Annette generation, sort of. Doug gave "normal jobs" a try, graduating from Woodbury College and working at a variety of business positions. But it didn't take long before he grew tired of nine to five and became a fireman. And today, at 49, he has gravitated back to the beach, recently moving into an apartment with a view of Manhattan Beach. His answering machine announces, "Beach chateau." Not surprisingly, neither Doug nor Diane was alarmed when their sons eschewed more traditional career paths for surfing and volleyball. "I couldn't be prouder," says Diane.
That the brothers chose different sports is probably lucky for two kids whose primary instinct is competition. Diane says the family was crazy with competition; a simple household chore, such as stuffing pillowcases, would become a race. One house probably couldn't have accommodated two surfers or two volleyball players. But their divergent destinies were laid out at the beginning. "It's the way we were designed," says Chris. "Brent's taller, has longer arms. I'm a little bit stockier, and I've got bigger feet." Bigger feet? "They're huge," says Brent of Chris's 13½ shoe size. "He really sticks to the board." Then, as any older brother might say, pridefully, he adds, "Show him your feet, Chris."
The two brothers show a support for each other that is comical beyond the pride that one takes in the other's giant boats. When one brother seems too modest to fully explain his success, the other jumps in. "Chris is a big-wave monster," says Brent. "He goes out on days when most people wouldn't go near the water." When Brent seems to downplay his position on the pro tour, Chris says, "Tick off your sponsors, Brent," knowing that that will entail quite a bit of ticking.
Of the two, Brent is the more successful financially. With full-blown sponsorship of the tour, and the explosion in active wear, beach volleyball has become a lucrative sport. There are millionaires on tour. Last year, the top six players all made more than $100,000 in prize money. The top team of Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos combined for $442,000. This year, with Kiraly over in Italy through the start of the AVP tour, Brent has teamed up with four other players and is currently paired with Tim Hovland. The rewards certainly offset the five-month grind of the tour, which moves around the country for 23 consecutive weekend tournaments.
Chris doesn't begrudge Brent his monetary success. After all, Chris didn't get into surfing for the money. Posted in his bedroom is not a chart of career earnings but a world map with pins stuck in some very remote locations—beaches he has surfed. "That's the Pipeline," he says, pointing to a pin on the famous Hawaiian beach. "This is the island of Tavarua, in Fiji, run just for surfers. It's an exotic surf camp. Best experience of my life." There are pins in South Africa, France, Australia, Japan. He has been to them all. "The money never mattered to me then," says Chris. "Doesn't matter now."
It might matter tomorrow, though, and Doug is helping the boys invest in real estate. Chris figures to do well on the PSAA tour, where he can get more coverage and attract more sponsorship. Brent's tour gets richer every year and he, presumably, does too. In the off-season, the brothers can afford to stay home and play golf with their father ("They're the brothers I never had," says Doug), which they do often and fiercely.
But they would rather go to the office. Sunshine is a terrible thing to waste and so, we must conclude, is youth. The brothers pad the six blocks to the ocean. To train? To prepare for their next competitions? Not really, just to surf and play volleyball. "And why not?" says Chris.