Bucking the expectations

2019 HHSAA boys diving champion Ethan Buck and his mother, Stephanie (Soll) Buck. / Photo by Brian McInnis

In his first diving meet, Ethan Buck placed 19 out of 19.

That was a just a couple of months ago. On Saturday, Buck improbably won it all at the HHSAA/K. Mark Takai Swimming and Diving championships.

Buck, a water polo player, didn’t get up on a diving board (competitively, at least) for the first time until November.

“So my girlfriend (Isabel) does diving, and we started dating, and I wasn’t doing a sport in the winter,” Buck said. “She said, ‘oh, you should do diving with me!’ I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll give it a try.’ And then, yeah, next thing you know …”

He placed fourth at the recent ILH championships but did well enough to qualify for states. He scored a 368.75 spanning Friday and Saturday in front of a much larger crowd at the Central Oahu Regional Park pool.

Turned out, that was better than all comers.

“Every meet I was kind of progressing a little bit more than the last,” he said. “And my goal was to peak at the end. We just finished ILH champs and I got fourth. I just barely missed placing … then I added three dives — the inward double, the front flip, and then the forward 2 1/2 front flips, which got a lot of points for me. So yeah, I guess I peaked at the end.”

Ethan Buck did a demonstration dive during a break at the HHSAA swimming and diving championships. / Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Advertiser

It was clear being around the pool (and with his results) that Buck’s support system was strong. Besides his girlfriend, he had someone with direct knowledge of the sport he could call upon at all times — his mother, Stephanie (Soll) Buck.

She won the girls diving state title for Punahou in 1987 with a score of 354.75 and shifted into a coach/mentor role as her son developed rapidly in the sport.

“Diving is a tight community of coaches, parents and athletes who all support each other,” Stephanie Buck said. “We were all working with each diver to do their personal best and that is what we saw at the pool today. The ‘Iolani coaches poured into the student athletes and we are grateful for their commitment to the kids.

“I had the opportunity to work with the kids at the end of the season. Working with the athletes and specifically my son has been tremendously rewarding. Coaching Ethan these past two weeks and sharing this championship with him has been a life highlight for me and I’ll remember this moment forever! We couldn’t be more proud.”

But to go from novice to champion in a matter of weeks?

The family had a trampoline when Ethan Buck was little, and he used to bounce on it regularly, he explained. He thought that helped with his air control as he sprung off the diving board. In addition, his girlfriend Isabel was out with a leg injury for the first six weeks of the season.

“So she was pretty much my personal coach throughout that whole time,” Ethan said.

Soon after stepping down from the champions podium and speaking to a reporter, Buck thanked his ‘Iolani coaches, the team parents and supporters for his accomplishment. His parents and grandparents stood at his side, beaming.

“It means the world to me,” Stephanie Buck said of the moment. “I’m proud of him and it feels good to share that connection.”

Ethan Buck paused to consider the significance.

“She was a state champ at Punahou, and now I’m a state champ. Feels weird saying it, but yeah. It’s in the DNA.”


  1. Cate Waidyatilleka February 10, 2019 12:59 pm

    Ethan was spectacular in all ways … his athleticism and work ethic were extraordinary, as is clear from his rise from no experience to state champion. However, beyond that, he was a great teammate and supporter of others. We are so grateful to Isabel for bringing us Ethan, and to Stephanie for joining us as a coach (which we were hoping for all along!). We love the Buck ohana!

  2. Ethan Buck February 10, 2019 1:32 pm

    Also a special shoutout to coaches Till, Randy, Jomo and Jeff. I couldn’t have done it without you guys!

  3. Eddie Lee February 10, 2019 7:17 pm

    Ethan Buck’s work ethic in the classroom is also exemplary — his state championship is well-deserved. Congratulations!

  4. Stephanie Buck February 13, 2019 11:02 am

    Awww, thanks Coach Till! The feeling is mutual! You have built a wonderful team, and we really loved being a part of it. I’m already looking forward to next season! Yes, big thanks to Isabel for getting Ethan into diving! 🙂 Aloha, Stephanie

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