Ford Stallsmith ’20 is a member of the championship paddling team who came to HPA in the eighth grade, a choice he made because he was looking for a challenging academic experience at a school with a strong athletic program. A long-time resident of the Big Island, Ford is a day student from Waimea.
How did you get into paddling? What drew you to the sport?
I’ve always been around paddling. My parents paddled from a club in Kawaihae. In middle school, I started with the canoe club and fell in love with it. I really like the way paddling gives you a connection to the ocean, the way you have to pay attention to currents, to weather patterns. Paddling helps me to stay in touch with my surroundings. But it’s even more than that. Working as a single unit in a canoe, fully united, is a valuable thing to learn. You have to put your ego aside and understand you’re part of something bigger.
What makes paddling different from other sports? What are the challenges and rewards?
Paddling really teaches you to work as a team. Everyone has a job on the crew. Everyone needs to understand that no position matters more than any other. There needs to be chemistry—the right people in the right seats. The coordination needs to be perfect, everyone sharing one mindset, in one space. When you find that balance, with everyone working towards one goal, it’s beautiful. You can feel it. That’s why we were so successful this past year. Another reason was the huge increase in the number of paddlers; with that kind of depth, the coaches could find the right combination of paddlers. It’s not about who’s the fastest or strongest. It’s about cohesion.
How did the team prepare for the BIIF (Big Island Interscholastic Federation) Championship?
The crew was relatively settled by the championship, and we felt fairly good, as we were undefeated, but the coaches’ strategy made the difference. We’re allowed one sub for the two rounds, the prelim and the final. A freshman raced the prelim, so that the more experienced crew was fresh for the final. That strategy was key to our success. The state championship was more nerve-wracking—winning came down to mere seconds—but we were really happy to come away with our third-place finish. Our coach Mesepa Tanoai, is excellent. He also brought on an additional coach with his son, Kainoa Tanoai ’12, who is a champion paddler, so we’re getting amazing coaching.
What is life at HPA like for you outside of paddling?
I’ve gotten into my classes that do a lot of project-based learning. I like being able to explore ideas, not just learn for a test. I’m really looking forward to next year and doing a capstone. I’m planning on taking Art and Science of Surf, as I’m a pretty avid surfer. I think it will be really interesting, learning about the history and science of wave riding and then learning the art of shaping surfboards. For my project, I’d really like to design a surfboard out of recycled materials. That’s really what I like about HPA: how easy it is try new things and find your path.