Pro Activity | Noa Hopper | The Ultimate Renaissance Grom
by Phil White
Some theorize that the best athlete is the one having the most fun. Others assert that the best athlete is the one who can master new skills the fastest. If either of these theories prove true, 17-year-old San Diego SUP sensation Noa Hopper is already on top, and he's only getting better.
This past summer, while his friends were goofing off and going on family trips, Hopper was jumping between a range of water sports so broad that the term "polymath" seems a dramatic understatement. In addition to taking on daily SUP sessions in Mission Bay and Cardiff by the Sea, as well as his first season lifeguarding in Del Mar, Hopper also spent an inordinate amount of time practicing nine disciplines (yes, nine!) at the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team (SDCKT) headquarters. And then came the competitions.
Earlier this year, Hopper was on the fence about whether to take his first crack at Molokai 2 Oahu when he ran into veteran, world champion SUP racer, Candice Appleby. The SUP superstar encouraged him to give M2O a shot, and offered to be his relay partner for the intimidating 32-mile Channel of Bones crossing.
"If it wasn't for Candice, I probably wouldn't have even attempted Molokai this year," Hopper said. "She's done the race on SUP and prone boards and had everything planned down to the last detail, so that gave me a lot of confidence."
Another encounter that helped fuel Hopper's last-minute preparations for M2O was a downwind training session with Danny Ching. Noa noticed that the seasoned world champion seemed a little sluggish and asked him what was up. He found out that Ching had paddled more than 20 miles that morning in his outrigger canoe, taken a brief rest and then joined his young protégé for another 15 on his SUP board. "Danny's got more downwind experience than anyone and his tips convinced me that I could complete the channel crossing."
The results of Ching and Appleby's mentoring? First-place in the mixed relay division. Most people would be satisfied with such a momentous victory, but this was just the start of Hopper's winning summer. After finishing M2O, he flew back to San Diego for three days and then went back to Oahu for a water polo tournament with his Bishop's High School team.
During the school year, Hopper stays in shape with grueling two-hour, five day a week team practices that involve "lots of intervals and intense swimming drills." So he and his teammates were primed for the weeklong tournament, which they ended on the podium, raising the championship trophy.
After the tournament, Hopper headed home to continue his lifeguard shifts, training at SDCKT and daily SUP sessions with Laird Standup teammate, Chuck Glynn. "We'll head up to Cardiff, paddle for a couple of hours and then go for a huge breakfast at Pipes Café in Encinitas," Hopper said. "I owe Chuck a lot, but not breakfast because he'll sometimes eat two daily specials!"
Soon after returning from Hawaii, it was time for Hopper to pause his training and get back to competing. This time it was on to the 2015 USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships in Chula Vista. There, Hopper set a new standard of excellence by making the finals in all nine events he entered and scoring podium finishes in seven of them.
The most impressive of these results was arguably in the C2 1000 meters. Hopper and new partner Paul Chevallier stepped into a boat together for the first time and beat their more experienced competitors to claim the title. At the urging of Quickblade mad scientist, Jim Terrell, Hopper also tried his hand in sprint canoe (the event that took Terrell to four Olympiads) and C-1 canoe, in which Hopper finished fifth in the nation after only 10 practice sessions. Exposure to these new events has led to Hopper setting his sights on even loftier future goals.
"SUP was added to the Pan Am Games and hopefully the next step is it becoming an Olympic event," Noa said. "I'd love to represent my country in SUP, kayaking and C1."
More SUP Groms.
A look back at the 2015 Molokai 2 Oahu.