UC San Diego men’s soccer players Nick Shor, Jonah Kawamura, and Evan Wellerstein have more in common than matching uniforms and an unruly passion for soccer.
From the Hawaiian Islands to the Southern California coast, this tremendous trio shares a bond that has withstood the test of time and travel and is anchored deep in their Hawaiian roots.
Though they come from similar backgrounds, each player has carved a unique path on the team and in San Diego, the city they now call home.
Born in Washington, D.C. and raised on the island of Oahu since the age of six, is senior goalkeeper, Nick Shor. From a small town within the bustling capital of Honolulu, Nick reflected on the excitement of having two new players from Hawai’i join the team this year. “I’ve just been waiting for somebody to come from where I come from. When I heard about these guys from Hawai’i, it was an amazing feeling, honestly,” he shared.
Nick revealed that he and Jonah knew each other from back home. He implied that the moment they first got to play together on the field at Triton Soccer Stadium was surreal. “One day, I got a text from Jonah, asking me about joining the program at UC San Diego and that he’d be coming out soon to visit. I was stoked… I got to show him around, it was awesome,” expressed Nick.
Island hopping eastward, is Maui-born and raised, freshman defender, Evan Wellerstein. “I lived on the island from the time I was born until about fourteen years old. Right before high school started, I moved to Seattle, spent my four years out there, and then I got into contact with head coach Jon Pascale. From there, I decided I’d make the move to San Diego for college,” he explained.
Evan shared that the best thing about his home is the culture. He reminisced on the “very family-like environment, everywhere you go.” He continued, “growing up, I played baseball, basketball, and soccer. I even played in some tournaments against Jonah back in the day. But with all three sports, whatever team I was on, there was always this special sense of family, which is definitely the biggest thing I’m missing from Hawai’i,” the freshman revealed.
Echoing a similar feeling and in his first year as well at UC San Diego, is transfer student from the University of Washington, midfielder Jonah Kawumura, who also implied that there’s no place quite like home.
“I was born in Oahu and stayed there for eighteen years, so basically my whole life. I agree with Evan, that on such a small island, everyone knows each other and takes care of each other. I’m not missing it too much yet, these guys on the team are my family now. But it’s more comfortable down there for sure because I’ve lived there all my life. I’m sure this place will get more comfortable too though,” Jonah expressed.
Nick shared, “like Jonah, Evan is a super cool guy. He’s fun to be around, a funny guy honestly… I can’t complain about those two.” He continued, “it’s just fun having people around that are also from Hawai’i. There are random things about the island and culture that other people wouldn’t relate to in the same way. Simple things like being able to crack jokes about back home … It gives you this warm feeling inside,” said Shor.
Nick suggested that the best way to understand Hawaiian culture is through what is known as the spirit of aloha — being in the presence of and sharing the essence of life, to pass lessons of peace, compassion, and kindness to others.
“The culture is so unique, it’s so welcoming and loving. People are super friendly, probably overly friendly compared to a lot of places. The people in San Diego are amazing, too, but it’s just a different level of warmth you feel when you’re in Hawai’i,” the goalkeeper revealed.
This true feeling of warmth is something expressed by each of the guys, and it’s neither a coincidence nor plainly the feeling of sunshine hitting your skin. The teammates described the pleasant culture of the islands as something that has simply become a part of who they are, and something they can take with them wherever they travel next.
In Evan’s latest move to San Diego, he expressed that he felt well-prepared for the transition. “When I moved to Seattle for high school, I made the move with just my mom and only one of my brothers. So, that was definitely a transition for the first year until my dad and other brother followed us out there. I think that experience made the process easier to move away for college, for sure. The team has definitely helped fill that void of having people there who you can trust, hang out with, and support you.”
Nick reflected on his closeness with his family, too, and shared how family support in his soccer career, whether in the stands, from afar, or virtually, means everything to him. “When I started college in San Diego, my mom actually got a new job and moved here too. She couldn’t get away from me, I guess,” he laughed. “I’m definitely close with all my family. It’s just great to know that they’re going to be there to support me, whether I play amazing or play horrible,” he claimed.
Viewing one another like brothers now, Nick and Jonah realized how their special bond affects their dynamic on the field. Nick shared, “with Jonah, I know his personality on the field, and he knows mine. We’ve played with each other a bunch before. It’s good because it helps us to find balance and I also feel like it can help me share my understanding of him on the field with others too. He’s really passionate about the game.”
Likewise, Jonah expressed that “Nick knows me through and through. When I talk to Nick, he knows what I’m saying, he knows it’s always coming from a good place.” Jonah acknowledged, “I’m a pretty vocal guy out on the field,” and added, it’s possible that the way he communicates with others isn’t always the most effective. “You know, with other teammates, I have to take a step back or take a couple of breaths before we work things out, but not with Nick, he’s truly like family at this point. I love the guy,” remarked Jonah.
On his relationship with Evan, Nick said “we’re still getting to know each other on and off the field, but I can already tell he’s going to be such an amazing player for this program for his college career,” the goalkeeper remarked.
He reminisced on how exciting it was to share the experience of Evan’s first team traveling trip together this year. Nick explained, “not everyone gets to travel, so it was really fun to just show him what it’s like to do this with the team and hang out with the guys”.
Still, in his first quarter as a scholar-athlete at UC San Diego, Evan expressed appreciation for the opportunity he’s been given and the time he’s spent with other freshmen, as well as older players. While he described the pace of island life to be more mellow and slow with fewer people, fewer cars, and less traffic, the Maui native shared that San Diego is the closest to Hawai’i one can get. Jonah and Nick agreed.
“I’d say it doesn’t get much better than waking up with a coastal view, training with your teammates, going to class, then being able to walk to the beach and surf. I’ve been itching to be down here ever since my visit. So far, it’s been all positive,” expressed Wellerstein.
Evan further credits his background for allowing him to be open to different cultures, and lifestyles, and said this has made it easier to establish friendships and get intertwined with his new team. “Living in Seattle, even, was such a different experience from Hawai’i, so moving there was almost a culture shock too. But I would say the experiences of the family-like environment in Hawai’i helped me prepare for that. Now I’m here, and it’s fantastic. It just all makes sense.”
While moving far away from family comes with difficult moments, it can also be a transition that allows for independence and personal growth. Likewise, while the lockdown phase of the early pandemic shut a lot of opportunities down, it can largely be perceived as a period that allocated time for self-exploration.
Nick revealed that over his college years, including quarantine, he has grown more than ever. “One of the biggest things I decided to get into was meditation and mindfulness. Having that straight mind changed my life, it helps keep me calm and find my center again. It’s changed me more as a person than anything else has,” he reflected.
Nick continued, “for me, sometimes I’ll get nervous before our games, so in those moments pre-game I actually try to keep myself calm instead of getting super amped up, which might be different from a lot of players. When it comes to soccer, I’m here to have fun and enjoy playing the game. I’ve been able to do that for almost four years now and we have amazing coaches, and my teammates are just the best. Enjoying it is just the most important thing for me.”
Jonah also reflected on his experiences early in the pandemic. “Back in Hawai’i, at this time, we would go to school online, then during lunch break, my friend would come to pick me up to go surfing. We’d go back inside to finish school, have online soccer practice, then go straight back to the ocean to surf. That’s the usual Hawai’i school lifestyle, during Covid or not,” he shared.
Nick’s take on the perfect day back home looks a little bit like this: “we’d wake up early to watch the sunrise, on the north shore, watch the dolphins swim, get some açaí bowls for lunch. Later in the day, it’s either an afternoon hike or a snorkel at this bay with the coolest fish ever. Afterward, sunset on the beach, of course. Just basically spending the entire day in nature because it’s so beautiful out there. It’s everything.”
Renowned for its nature, its culture, and its beaches, the teammates couldn’t leave food out from their love letter to home. Jonah said, “Back home, I love some poke”. Evan jumped in, “some poke from FoodLand back home, it’s so good.” Poke is raw, cubed fish that may be marinated and served alongside rice and fresh ingredients, while it can be prepared and purchased at FoodLand, a top grocery in Hawai’i. Likewise, Nick hopped on this train, sharing, “I definitely like the food better in Hawai’i. I grew up with all the food there and fell in love with Asian cuisine. But one thing San Diego does have on Hawai’i, is Mexican food. It’s incredible here,” he said.
Because of the soccer season robbed by the pandemic, Nick plans to play soccer for UC San Diego for another year, after the 2022 season. After graduation, he hopes to work for a company that is doing good for the world, applying his skills as a data science major to help organizations, analyze data, and make new inferences and research discoveries that can help make a difference. Because of ample job opportunities on the West Coast that align with his vision, Nick envisions himself remaining in San Diego for some time after graduating, then moving back to Oahu later in life, when he’s ready to start building his own family. He shared, “I’d definitely want to do that in Hawai’i. No question.”
Likewise, Evan echoed this feeling that his heart was also left in Hawai’i. “For soccer, my future goal is to play professionally. As far as my degree in international business, I’d like to maybe go overseas, work in a different country, and get into something along the lines of financial advising.”
Similarly, Jonah shared that with his own international business degree, he hopes to “move back to the islands, maybe get into real estate. I have some connections back home … playing professional is an option I’m not super closed off to either.”
While part of these guys will always long for their cherished home, the players said that they couldn’t appreciate more the opportunity they were given to move to the West Coast and play soccer at UC San Diego.
Jonah explained, “I was ready for a change. Transferring to UC San Diego was definitely the right move for me, personally. I’m sure our coach had tons of emails from other guys wanting to play here. But at the end of the day, we were chosen to be on this team, and we are so grateful”.
Evan added, “we’re definitely enjoying the moment. Not taking anything for granted, like Jonah said, we’re pretty lucky to be down here doing what we love and we’re enjoying what we’ve got.”
On this note, Nick expressed that while there’s no place like home, there’s also no time like the present moment. “My advice is to take risks and enjoy that life is not so much easy, but rather, it can be so simple if you want it to be. Obviously, there will be challenges in life. But you don’t have to overcomplicate things or overthink them if you don’t want to.”
From Hawai’i-Aleutian Standard Time zone to Pacific Standard Time zone or wherever life’s journey takes them, it couldn’t be clearer that together, these guys’ hearts remain in the Aloha Spirit.