When it comes to mastering a single blade, Hawaii's Slater Trout is hoping he can excel sitting down and standing up.
The 15-year-old standup star, a freshman at Maui Preparatory Academy, is going from reeling in standup paddleboarding awards to kneeling in Olympic-style C-1s. And he's doing a bang-up job. "He's shown more talent than any kid I've ever coached," says four-time Olympic sprinter Jim Terrell. "I knew he was going to be good, but he's exceeded our expectations."
Big words, considering Trout first knelt in a race canoe last November. That's when, after seeing him take second place in the Elite Men's Division of California's invitation-only Rainbow Sandals-Gerry Lopez Battle of the Paddle, Terrell invited Trout to San Diego's Olympic Training Center. "I saw his results in the Battle of the Paddle and thought we should steer him toward C-1," he says.
His first foray into the tippy craft on Mission Bay wasn't necessarily easy. Terrell added a fin to the boat to help it track. "It took a while to get used to it," says Trout. "I'd get a stroke in, and then have to balance for a few seconds. It was really tricky the first few times." Eventually, they took the fin off and headed to the Training Center. "Then I pretty much just started doing circles," he says. "It's way harder than anything else I've ever tried."
Next it was back to Hawaii, where Terrell shipped him a two-piece C-1 to train in. It's the only boat of its kind on the islands, and Trout uses it for an hour a day, his eyes fixed on this spring's U.S. Team Trials in Chula Vista, California. Do well there and the Junior World Championship team or 2011 Pan American Games aren't out of the question.
If this new kneeling venture crimps his standup style, which has earned him sponsorship from eight companies, he's not worried. He gives it all the shaka sign. "It's cutting into my standup time, but it's good training," he says. "You're in the same kind of position and the stroke's pretty much the same." Adds Terrell: "Paddling's paddling, whether you're standing or sitting. Standup is probably the best crossover to Olympic C-1 you could have because of the balance and core strength it fosters."
Still, even Trout knows the similarities end there. The surf culture is a far cry from that of European-dominated sprint canoeing. "It's a totally different world, but it's cool to be part of both," he says. Then the beach-blonde lapses into local vernacular: "It's a gnarly, intense sport—but I'm stoked to do it."
– Eugene Buchanan