In the Spotlight – Trey Balding

In the Spotlight – Trey Balding

by Colin Whited

Photo: Trey Balding

For Peter “Trey” Balding, overcoming odds through self-determination and close, family bonds has been regular a theme throughout his life.

Trey was born Deaf. His parents, Peter and Mary – both Punahou alums – eventually enrolled him at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind. (As his grandfather is also named Peter, he is the third one; hence, “Trey.”) With his parents’ love and high expectations, Trey flourished. He graduated and went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet is the world’s only university designed for deaf and hard of hearing students.

“Looking back, they made sure I had everything I needed,” Trey said of his parents. “But they also taught me what it means to commit, because they were committed to me.”

Now at age 29, Trey finds himself using these lessons in daily life. This includes his commitment to competitive watersports. He is the only Deaf person to compete in prone paddleboarding, and is doing so with unprecedented success. But like the waves sometimes, the journey wasn’t always smooth.

Trey first stumbled upon paddleboarding when he asked his dad – a waterman in his own right – for suggestions on staying fit. “My dad has a friend who’s an avid paddleboarder, so he suggested it and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

After a bit of practicing, Trey got his first taste of competition in 2012 during a paddleboard race from Hawaii Kai to Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. This was an eye-opening experience for him. Not only was it physically exhausting, but Trey saw firsthand how much technical skill was required to be a more efficient paddleboarder. Despite this, he felt compelled to continue training.

Then, Trey’s dad had an idea: Why not sign up for the annual Molokai2Oahu (M2O) Paddleboard Race?

The grueling, 32-mile paddle from Kaluakoi on Molokai to Maunalua Bay Beach Park on Oahu wasn’t what Trey initially had in mind. But when his dad offered work with Trey as a two-man team, meaning they would each take turns paddling the 32 miles, he agreed.

In July 2012 Trey and his father, working together, completed the M2O race. For Trey, the feeling he had at the finish line was one he’ll not forget. “A feeling like no other, the ultimate adrenaline rush,” Trey remembered. “And immediately I promised to do it again next year – my dad said I was crazy.”

Trey stayed true to his word in 2013, this time racing with a friend as part of a two-man team. Trey once again finished the race, but this time with different emotions. He remembers feeling underwhelmed, and how the exhilaration from the previous year was notably absent.

Trey pinpointed what went wrong. “I wasn’t 100% invested,” he said candidly. “I met Stephanie (now his wife), fell in love, and wanted to travel the world with her.”

With paddleboarding taking a backseat, it was while traveling abroad – and away from ocean – that Trey realized his passion for this watersport.

“That there – investing 100% – became a valuable life lesson for me,” Trey explained. “On that journey I realized paddleboarding made me happy, and I decided to commit to it.”

After returning to Hawaii from his trip, Trey was determined to compete in the M2O race, but this time without being part of a two-man team. He wanted to complete the entire 32 miles solo. And in 2015, he did it, making history along the way.

Other Deaf people have completed the 32-mile Molokai-to-Oahu journey on water, as Trey is humbly quick to point out, but no one had done it solo using a paddleboard. Not until Trey, that is.

For Trey, the all-familiar adrenaline that came with finishing the race returned. It turns out he also had a good showing, finishing 10th overall, and 3rd in the 20-to-29 age group. In 2016 he raced solo again, this time finishing 7th overall and 2nd in his age group. He proved he’s no fluke. Trey realized his talent and thought to himself, “I’m actually good.”

Next month Trey will compete solo in the 2017 edition of M20. His goal?

“Hands down, first overall.”

Trey understands this is easier said than done. His training regimen gives an idea of the level of commitment required to compete at a high level. Trey recalls his days as a member of the Gallaudet swim team, where he learned about interval training, particularly how it aids with recovery and muscle growth.

“This type of training allows me to develop strength and endurance as a paddleboarder,” Trey explained.

Trey uses a fitness tracker to monitor his training. He paddles from Kaimana Beach in Waikiki to Ala Wai Harbor three times a week, using interval exercises. Once a week he paddles for 18 miles consecutively, to build and maintain stamina. He also lifts weights three times a week.

Trey has also adopted approaches to honing his technique on the water. “I work on catching waves, bumps, and chops,” he explains. This helps him conserve energy and gives a boost of extra momentum on the water. He uses a video game analogy to describe this strategy. “It is like a turbo button,” he smiles.

However, when his body occasionally dictates, he gives himself a day off.

“Not that I ever get a real day off,” Trey said, shaking his head and smiling. Eight months ago, he and Stephanie welcomed their first child, Kiron Adams. Kiron, like his parents, is also Deaf. During his newfound parenthood, Trey cannot help but reflect at the love and support he’s received from his own family.

“If it weren’t for my parents, if I never met Stephanie, I would never have approached life with this much commitment, and the M2O race is an example of that,” Trey explains. “I feel I owe all of this to my family.”

He also recognizes his journey did not come without sacrifices, some large, some small. Among his sacrifices are spending time with friends and family, as well as a favorite pastime: Ice-cold beer. A self-admitted lover of brewskys, Trey insists that alcohol consumption negatively impacts his training regimen and competitive performance.

His hard work and sacrifices are paying off. Trey recently won first place in the paddleboard race hosted at the 8th Annual Surf n’ Sea Haleiwa SUP Race, presented by O’Neill. He has two more races before M2O: Da Hui Independence Day Paddleboard Race (eight miles, Turtle Bay to Waimea Bay), and the Cline Mann Memorial Paddleboard Race (17 miles, Makapuu to the Outrigger Canoe Club).

For Trey, the ultimate finish to M2O has always included the sip of a cold drink after a six-month hiatus and embracing his loved ones. This year, however, he hopes to add a new moment of nostalgia to his post-race celebration.

“I want to be able to stand atop the podium with Kiron in my arms,” Trey exclaimed, beaming. “I want to be Super Dad.”

With the amount of love and commitment that has helped to influence his life, of this there’s no question.