Top Picks From Print: Some Sports Have No Varsity Season


Junior Max Saito flies through the air on his skis. “I go pretty big; I’ve jumped off 50 foot cliffs.” Photo courtesy of Max Saito.

Danielle McNair, Staff Writer

The Menlo Athletics Department is made up of 18 varsity girls and boys teams, yet some athletes in the school community take it one step further than the varsity level and participate in a variety of extreme sports.

Sophomore Linus Hansen is an avid rock climber. Hansen began climbing in a small gym in New York City called Steep Rock Bouldering. “I first started climbing because I was not playing a sport and decided that it would be an interesting thing to do,” Hansen said.

Junior Emory Tudor is a competitive swimmer. They began swimming for a team at six years old and have been swimming competitively since first grade. “Ever since then, I’ve been swimming year-round,” Tudor said.

Junior Luke MacNaughton is a passionate surfer. “My dad loves to surf, and he taught me and my brother when we were super young,” MacNaughton said. “We moved to Hawaii when I was seven years old where I discovered my love for surfing.”

Lastly, junior Max Saito is an adrenaline-seeking skier. “I began skiing when I was three because my parents loved it, and now I love it too,” Saito said.

Hansen’s passion stems from the distilled form of challenge and improvement. “When you do a route that you previously thought impossible, it is a pretty amazing experience,” Hansen said. “I think what keeps me around is the personal challenge, the measurable improvement and the feeling of trying hard on a route.”

“I feel like the best way to explain why I climb is because when I’m not climbing, all I am thinking about is climbing,” Hansen said.

Hansen’s excitement toward climbing comes in waves. “What normally keeps me excited is watching or reading about routes that I would like to do sometime in the future,” Hansen said. For example, he mentioned looking at routes in Yosemite in the winter when climbing is not possible due to weather, but he looks forward to being able to climb them in the spring.

Tudor has always loved the water; it felt like a paradise for them. “When I was little, I even used to swim in thigh-deep puddles that formed when the golf course near my house flooded,” Tudor said. “Considering my love of water, swimming was a natural choice. And honestly, I’ve always hated sweating and getting hot, so swimming is just perfect for me.”

Junior Emory Tudor competing in a race for the Menlo Knights. “I have always loved the water — pool, ocean, river, lake, literally any body of water is a paradise for me.” Photo courtesy of Emory Tudor.

After many years of swimming, the sport has become a constant in Tudor’s life. “The same things that drew me to swimming in the first place keep me doing it. I love my team, and I love spending time in the water. It’s that simple,” Tudor said.

What sets Tudor apart from other highly competitive swimmers are some of their more unique accomplishments, including open-water swimming accomplishments. Tudor placed third in the Escape from Alcatraz swim, a swim race that takes place in the San Francisco Bay where athletes battle the strong currents and freezing water for a one-and-a-half mile open-water swim from Alcatraz Island to the mainland. Although that may look more impressive on paper, Tudor is most proud of their work ethic and dedication every day at practice. “I think it shows a degree of perseverance that I find more impressive,” Tudor said.

MacNaughton surfed regularly while he lived in Hawaii, but when his family moved back to California a few years later, he stopped going out as frequently. “I got out of it when we moved back. It was hard for me to be motivated to get out there because the water was colder and it was less convenient,” MacNaughton said. “But COVID-19 helped because it has given me more time to go in the ocean.”

Junior Luke MacNaughton in his natural habitat, the ocean. “It is beautiful no matter where you are. I love to go out there for hours and surf.” Photo courtesy of Luke MacNaughton.

When the motivation to zip up his wetsuit and get out into the water is low, MacNaughton has a unique mindset that encourages him to go into the ocean. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, even if I just catch one or two waves, I am going to enjoy it, so knowing that being out in the ocean is a better time than I am having gets me out,” MacNaughton said. “Plus, the ocean is beautiful no matter where you are, and I always find the water calming.”

Saito participates in a more seasonal sport, which makes for an intense winter and a more relaxing summer playing tennis. “I feel like I go all out and have done some pretty crazy stunts while skiing,” Saito said. “I like to go pretty big; I’ve jumped off 50-foot cliffs.”

Skiing for Saito sometimes results in serious injuries. “I fell on a big jump recently and hurt my chest. I have not been able to work out or play tennis since,” Saito said. “I also had surgery on my hand from an injury I got skiing and still have a scar.”

After all these years of extreme skiing, Saito is not scared of falling anymore. “Falling is not the most uncomfortable thing that can happen on the mountain anymore. It is usually pretty minor, and I am used to it,” Saito said.

Though injuries do not seem to stop Saito, neither do the friends he skis with. If anything, they push him farther. “I think my friends motivate me the most in skiing; they push me to go even further,” Saito said. “If I see my friend go off a jump or master a move, it makes me want to try it.”

For these athletes, the recent COVID-19 restrictions have not altered this ability to pursue their sport, and for some, the pandemic has bettered their situation. Though Hansen rock climbs in a gym several days a week, he has been able to enjoy climbing outside even more during the pandemic. “I enjoy traveling safely to places like Las Vegas or Saint George, [Utah], where I can climb outdoors the entire weekend,” Hansen said.

Luckily for Tudor, it is relatively easy to swim and compete while staying safe. “During competitions, we swim with one person per lane and the pool acts as a giant vat of disinfectant,” Tudor said.

MacNaughton and his family have relocated to Santa Barbara because school can be attended remotely which has allowed him more time and better access to the ocean. “I surf once a day at least, if not more. It has been nice being able to go out whenever I want,” MacNaughton said.

Skiing is a purple-tier sport, so for Saito, his winter routine has gone untouched. With the pandemic hitting early last spring, the skiing season was not impacted by the initial COVID-19 shutdown. This year, resorts are open at a limited capacity in California, and athletes are required to wear face coverings, but Saito is still able to ski while the snow lasts.