Kayak kids & keen kompetitors

Sept. 30, 2008, 3:28 p.m. (ET)

Nick Hanoian and Ryan Stock leisurely paddle their single kayaks side-by-side during practice on Mission Bay. It isn't meant to be a full-speed drill, but then each increases the pace.

Nick Hanoian (front) and Ryan Stock have their sights set on the 2012 Olympics after reaching the semifinals of the Moscow International Junior Regatta.
“Often, our slow workouts end up pretty fast,” Stock said. “We'll end up sprinting at the end because neither of us wants to be behind.”

While they are competitors in practice, the two members of the San Diego Canoe and Kayaking Club are also partners in the two-seat kayak. Driven by the same zeal, they have combined to represent the U.S. in the world's top level of junior kayaking.

The 17-year-old seniors – Hanoian of La Jolla High and Stock of Scripps Ranch High – recently reached the semifinals at the Moscow Junior International Regatta in the K2, or two-man event. The performance was a prelude to next year's Junior World Championships, which figure to be the boys' finale in the junior ranks and a launch to higher levels.

“The two of them together have a much, much better shot at going all the way and hopefully making the 2012 Olympic team than they do apart,” said Chris Barlow, the former Olympian who coaches them on the club level. “They can if they keep progressing the way they are progressing.”

This wouldn't be possible for Stock if he hadn't persisted despite repeatedly falling from his boat during his first year in the sport at age 12.

“You know, they are just really tipsy boats,” said Stock, smiling at the recollection. “You fall out, and you say, 'OK, next time, I'll go 20 minutes without falling out.' Then next time, 'I'll go half a practice.' Finally, 'I'm going faster and not falling out, so I might as well keep going.' ”

Hanoian had a more stable introduction to kayaking, if only because he was three years younger than Stock when he started.

“I was too small to tip the boat,” Hanoian said. “The boat didn't even notice that I was in it. Once you can balance the boat, it's really a good feeling knowing that you've accomplished that.”

Hanoian and Stock, like most of the 60 youths in their kayaking club, joined the organization after receiving an introduction to the program as members of San Diego Junior Lifeguards.

The kayaking club, which operates on Fiesta Island, began in 1996 with the guidance of Barlow, who competed for the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics. San Diego's Carrie Johnson advanced to this year's Beijing Games from her start in the club.

Hanoian and Stock have often worked out with Johnson, usually at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, reaping the advantages of two juniors matched with an elite athlete.

“She pushes us, and I think we push her,” Hanoian said. “That's another good training relationship.”

In addition, the two juniors occasionally cross paths with foreign Olympians drawn to the OTC facilities renowned for kayaking.

“You'll be paddling and someone will go by,” Hanoian said. “Then you think, 'Oh, he won a medal in the Olympics.' ”

In a similar way, Hanoian and Stock have set an example for younger club members.

“I want to be more like them,” said Dylan Smith, 13, of Clairemont, who has competed in the nationals in his division. “I see them going fast in their K1s and K2s, and I want to do that when I'm older. It inspires me to work harder.”

Along with kayaking, Hanoian plays water polo for La Jolla High, and next spring he'll again compete in the pole vault for the Vikings' track team.

Hanoian enjoyed a particularly memorable day two years ago, when he won the pole vault in a major freshman-sophomore meet at Rancho Bernardo and also qualified in national kayaking time trials at the Olympic Training Center.

Stock competed for three seasons in water polo at Scripps Ranch High and two in swimming before deciding to concentrate on kayaking this year.

In their two-man boat, the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Hanoian acts as the technician up front, while the 6-1, 195-pound Stock provides power from the back. During competition, there is little verbal communication between the two except for Hanoian's one-word commands to dictate pace.

“Nick has a really good stroke,” Stock said, “and that's important because I need to be able to follow it.”

The duo cemented their relationship over the past year after Stock gained the experience and skills to match the expertise built by Hanoian over a longer spell. In breakthroughs last summer, they won the junior K2 events at the Lake Placid (N.Y.) International Regatta and Canada Day in Ottawa.

Then came the early-September meet at the Moscow Canoeing and Rowing Basin, the site of the 1980 Olympics. Besides reaching the K2 semifinals, Hanoian and Stock competed on the American K4 boat that placed eighth.

“We're both really competitive people, and that helps a lot,” Hanoian said. “Also, it helps that we know each other really well, and we're good friends.”

Friendly rivals, true teammates, Hanoian and Stock proceed full speed ahead.