HPA Student Surfs With a Legend

The morning sun broke over Mauna Kea, beams of light illuminated the first massive swell of the season at Hāpuna Beach State Park. Little did Bennett '21 know, that day was going to be one of the greatest days of his life.

Among the many distinguished advantages of attending HPA is being perfectly positioned between all the breaks from the Kohala Coast to Waipiʻo Valley on the island of Hawai'i, particularly during the wintertime, when big swells grace the North and West Shores. Yep, one step out of your dorm, and you are just 15 minutes from dipping your toes in the Pacific at Hāpuna.

On Bennett's fateful day, Patrick O'Leary, long-time teacher, passionate photographer, and lifelong bodysurfer was looking to catch some waves with digital media teacher, filmmaker, and alumnus Ari Bernstein '94. "Looks way too big to go out. Those are backbreakers!" After watching massive wave after massive wave roll in, they decided to relocate and hunt down even larger ones to photograph.

As they four-wheeled along the rocky coast, bouncing through the kiawe trees, the coast opens up and reveals just what they were looking for. Monster waves were breaking off a point of lava jutting out into the deep ocean and there was not one person in sight. Then O'Leary gets a call from a local lifeguard who excitedly reports, "Mike Stewart is paddling out!" Mike, a nine-time bodyboarding champion, is a real legend, they knew then they were about to get the treat of a lifetime.

Patrick cheered Mike on like he was watching his favorite team at the Super Bowl, when he declared, "Dude! There's Bennett!"

Bennett, a new 15-year-old freshman at HPA, is part of a family that has spent its entire life in and around the ocean. 5' 7" with a medium build, he came rambling out of the dense kiawe trees on foot, bodyboard under one arm, red fins in the other, and a ho-hum look etched on his face as he approached the cliff above the break. He watched the swells crash against the rocks below, timing the waves and waiting for a lull between sets. Knowingly, he took the plunge at just the right moment, diving into the seafoam boiling along the jagged cliffs and then safely paddled out into a current. He knew he had to make each duck dive count, as he slowly worked his way out to Mike.

There they sat, like two old pros just bobbing in the dark blue water, waiting for the next set to come in. Patrick was stunned. "Can you imagine being a basketball player and one day walking into the HPA gym to find Michael Jordan there shooting alone? Bennett must be freaking out!" If he was, it didn't show one bit.

Patrick pointed to the slab of a wave that started to break and said, "He's going!" Bennett pulled in, taking a nice high line as the barrel formed, the foam ball just behind him. Momentum perfectly built, he skipped down the 10-foot face of the wave. "OH YEAH!!!" Patrick exploded. Completing the perfect ride, the barrel broke over him, leaving his audience breathless until he emerged. Out he popped, earning him louder cheers from what becomes a shoreline of spectators.

Anyone who surfs or paddles knows that you spend your whole life chasing waves, waking up at the crack of dawn, and rambling down rocky roads, all in the search of that next ride. All for days like that.

Our students get once in a lifetime opportunities like Bennett's all the time. Quelling stress by finding ways to be your true self within this nurturing Big Island environment. Having experiences that uniquely develop you and at the same time provide balance to a rigorous academic curriculum. That's what being at HPA is all about: Work hard. Seize opportunities. Discover purpose.