Folks thought Santa Barbara-raised beach volleyball player Todd Rogers had gone crazy when he dumped his longtime partner three years ago in favor of an untested upstart from Florida who had won only once on the beach.

But Rogers desperately wanted to make it to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and he figured he needed a big man to help him get there.

Now the rest of the world understands.

Phil Dalhausser, the 6-foot-9-inch Florida transplant who has teamed with Rogers since 2006, has proven to be a true monster on the beach. Nicknamed “The Thin Beast” because of his thin yet powerful physique, Dalhausser has exceeded in every category, garnering the FIVB (the international tour that governs the Olympics) titles as Most Improved Player (2006), Best Blocker (2006-07) and Best Hitter (2007), while the team took home a world championship in 2007. On the domestic AVP tour, Dalhausser has already earned an MVP award as well as two prestigious Manhattan Beach titles.

And that’s just in the first two years of his partnership with Rogers, known as “The Professor” for his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.

This year, the duo has shattered several men’s beach records — including winning the most matches in a row in the history of the sport in America — and secured the top seed heading into the Olympics that begin this weekend via claiming the last three international tournaments they entered, a feat last accomplished several years ago.

The FIVB record for consecutive matches is 23, set by Dalhausser and Roger’s nemesis, the Brazilian team of Emanuel Rego/Ricardo Santos, who won the gold medal in 2004. Barring a huge upset, they’ll break that mark during pool play this week in Beijing, then set their sights on the ultimate goal of a bringing home a gold.

Home for Dalhausser, by the way, is right here in Ventura.

You probably didn’t know that. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Not many of your friends and neighbors realize that Dalhausser has lived in a condo near the beach since May 2007.

The Thin Beast never practices in town, because the competition isn’t at a high enough level. Instead he drives to Santa Barbara’s East Beach, where he meets up with Santa Barbara native Rogers, who now lives just about the same distance north in Santa Ynez.

Dalhausser also isn’t one to go out club-hopping on Main Street, or to many other local spots, for that matter.

“When I’m home, I usually just sit on my couch and catch up on my Tivo,” Dalhausser says. “I’ve got the big screen TV so it’s great.”

It’s not that he’s worried about being recognized, either. Despite his status as the best beach volleyball player in the country and quite possibly the world, he’s a virtual unknown in his adopted hometown.

“The neighbors know that I’m on TV. When I’m getting the mail, they might say something. But other than that, it’s not like anyone stops me on the street. In Santa Barbara, when I walk around, people say ‘Good luck, Phil,’ or whatever. But nothing like that happens in Ventura.”

Which is OK with Dalhausser.

“I’m not one to draw attention to myself, so I like that the sport is a little bit under the radar. Man, when I think about (basketball stars) LeBron (James) or Kobe (Bryant), they can’t even go out in public. They have to have an entourage just to have people block their way so strangers can’t get through. I wouldn’t like that at all.”

Still, he doesn’t mind having achieved the top ranking at the tender age of 27, only 10 short years since he took up the sport rather late as a senior in high school.

“I’m not going to lie,” he says. “It feels pretty good. I don’t think about it too much, but every once in a while my buddy asks me, ‘So really, how does it feel to be No. 1 in the world?’ And dude, I gotta tell you, it’s pretty good. What else can I say?”

Dalhausser isn’t resting on his laurels. He knows the path to success lies in doing what got you there in the first place, and he isn’t getting caught up in the hoopla running up to the games.

“I want this gold medal more than anybody, but I’ve been trying not to think about anything related to the Olympics, because that makes you feel pressure, and it can be overwhelming.”

So Dalhausser plans on doing a little sightseeing — “maybe the Great Wall,” he allows — as well as cheering on fellow Americans in such sports as indoor volleyball, sprinting and team handball.

But when he steps on the sand every other day during the Olympic fortnight, it will be all business.

“That gold medal is the one thing that’s missing from my volleyball résumé. It would be great to have that on there, too.”  

Beach volleyball Olympics schedule

Ventura’s Phil Dalhausser is scheduled to play Aug. 9, 11 and 13. Times and stations have not yet been specified