Aloha and welcome to the world of downwind stand up paddling. I know you are hooked on this insanely fun, adrenaline elevator element of SUP; if you are reading this article. I’ve written about this a little before some time ago, but thought I’d bring it back again in greater detail as we approach this downwind season.
In this post I’ll touch upon the importance of increasing your lung capacity to increase your endurance and paddling capacity specifically for downwind paddling. I will also give you some cardio training tips, exercises and a special workout to help you structure your water time and gym time, so you can go the distance, get better results and have more fun.
Note: This will not be an intensely geeky, cardio technical wordy article as it could be, (no offense to those who love that) because my message here is for you to be much more aware of your cardio capacity or lack of, relating to downwind stand up paddling skills. I do refer to heart rate monitor, AT, recovery but I didn’t want to scare you away.
Maximum Heart = Maximum Glides = Maximum Fun!
Like many of us who live on or frequent Maui, we know for a fact we are some of the most spoiled paddlers in the world. We have on our N. shore a conveyer belt of downwind action, called Maliko. Flat-water padding? What? “We don’t do that” is what I often hear. Those words, “flat-water” I’ll admit, I too am guilty of never wanting to enter flat-water paddle races because I’m sure I’d suck wind. Honestly, I’d just rather surf it.
Besides Maui, paddlers are discovering other amazing places to downwind paddle like Lake Bohinj in Slovenia, or I know my Aussie friends love Snapper Rocks to Currumbin Alley and Broken Head to Ballina, or the Northern waters of Seattle, and on down to the Gorge in Hood River, Oregon.
Downwind stand up paddling has become it’s own unique element of the sport that offers fun and racing, allowing the adrenaline junkies like myself and those who love the surf; to have an “all in one” adventure. It simply doesn’t get any better.
Some surfing experience does help and will allow you to save your energy and cardio capacity for faster paddling. So if downwind paddling in high winds is your goal or dream and you want to be better at it, learn some footwork and go surfing.
The coolest thing about catching a bump or glide is that you just go. For example, once you catch a bump or glide which can require you to spend quick, intense bouts of cardio to paddle like hell to catch it, then you step back as your nose enters the trough and enjoy the scenery. But it doesn’t end there nor should your cardio effort.
However, when it comes to downwind paddling or racing, not all waters or racecourses or crossings are the same. You’ll find that not always will the wind cooperate in your favor forcing you to paddle on one side or head on or in many directions; every other direction except at your back. Or the tides can act as a mean backwash that makes you feel like your paddling in mud. That’s when you quickly discover you may need some extra, extra heart, and I don’t mean courage.
First, I always tell my clients to train on land and to train on the water; to push to the point where you get uncomfortable and stay there for one more minute, then two, then five and so on. Puking is not the goal, but not puking is. Make sense? Bottom line, the old training saying is true, “you gotta get comfortable being uncomfortable”.
If you’ve never heard of the term bonking, it’s a common term used in the endurance athlete world, which simply means hitting the wall. Your body and everything inside it is done, toast, depleted and it can even happen to the best. It’s not a pretty site.
So real quick, take note: The science or physiological meaning of “hitting the wall” is best described by Wikipedia is:
“In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Milder instances can be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. The condition can usually be avoided by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.”
Let’s now refer to the exiting Maliko gulch, for example. When you first attempt it and paddle out for your first run, “standing” for those who have little to no cardio training, that’s what get’s most right at the start. For the most part your first ten minutes or more (no warm up); you’re paddling up wind and side wind against side current and wind swell just to get out so you can turn down.
Some of you may reach your anaerobic threshold or AT which is NOT how you want to start your downwind run! (refer to definitions at the end of this article )
Granted you’re nervous, your adrenaline is turned on high and you may be tasting your breakfast, but this is the golden moment where your regular cardio training, increased heart and lung capacity will really help you and pay off. My heart rate rises but I’m able to control it as this is a perfect moment to get my head clear and start paying attention to my breath and rhythm as I get ready for the action.
Down we go!
A great tip I got once from Michi Schweiger of Naish one day on a training paddle, is he told me to stroke hard and fast twice then step back two steps and surf. Again, paddle hard twice, step back glide, paddle hard repeat all the way. He is very strong and has great footwork. He also has a fierce mind set with great lung capacity and is well trained. Sometimes I refer to it as the 2 and 2 or 2-3 and 2.
I do this now, but sometimes it’s like 2-3 strokes as I’m looking for the next bump. So let’s break down those first two strokes. They should be very powerful, digging, fast strokes. Anyone knows that paddling with Michi you better keep up because as he always says. “you can do betta” in his deep Austrian accent.
Right here is when you need a big lung capacity check.
First note as your paddling, be mindful of your breath. Is your heart pounding out of your chest wall, do we call 911? Or is it a nice smooth, trained, nicely elevated rhythm? Can you maintain this for 5, 8 or 15 miles?
It’s my sincere pleasure to introduce you to one of my new clients and new inspirations to Maui’s stand up paddle scene, Sasha Kinloch. Like many who enter the sport they discover that it’s amazing way to achieve a superior level of fitness, it’s a great cross training tool, or like Sasha they learn that this could be their newest healthy obsession!
I believe all of my clients are unique and often teach me more than I offer them. Sasha is an interesting blend of high energy, intense focus and has a way of visualizing exactly what her goals are. For a trainer, that makes my job easy!
Her base of fitness is already on the higher side which can only help her achieve her goals faster and with greater success. She wants to compete in all of Maui’s races, which are mostly downwinders. Her first race was the recent OluKai Ho’olaule’a. I didn’t get to meet her until the event, and learned that that day was her first time down Maliko! What a day that was for everyone. And here we are.
When I meet a person like Sasha and I see that fire in her eyes, I feel the need to pull the reigns in ever so gently to be sure she will enjoy every step of the way and not rush the “process” of putting her time in on the water. Nothing can compare to pure paddling time, getting worked and tumbled now and then, as the time spent on the water is the real training ground. People often ask me how many miles they need to run or cycle to equal number of miles on the water for distance or catching bumps or glides, and I simply say, “just time on the water.” There really is no way to measure that.
I asked Sasha a few questions as to why she’s taken with the sport of SUP and I hope it will inspire you to set new goals or maybe enter your first local race.
In preparation for the 4th Annual OluKai Ho’olaule’a and anytime you venture into the ocean, open ocean endurance is not something to take for granted and it is a required physical and mental element that all water sport enthusiasts must have, especially when faced with huge walls of water moving and changing conditions. Besides navigating current changes, surface wind speeds, waves or deep troughs, often experienced and non-experienced folks can get into serious trouble or lose critical momentum needed to paddle over, in and through some of the roughest patches that can form underneath you, near you, in front of you or behind you.
This article is helpful if you’re a prone paddler, surfer, kayak paddler, canoe paddler or stand up paddler. Are you ready if your canoe hulis and you lose your paddle? How to you react if you fall of your down wind board on a big day on Maliko? How prepared are you? Do you carry a waterproof pouch with your cell phone or better yet, a GPS unit? Do you have a regular cardio routine that includes intense bouts of intervals? Do you cross-train? If you’re pausing to think about anything of these questions, then it’s time you take good inventory and learn all you can and implement now. ( See tips below ) Also contributing, is Stacie Thorlakson, MCKC Maui Canoe & Kayak Club board president.
1.Equipment Check: Check integrity of leash, tighten all fins, repair any major dings, tighten drain plugs, charge and take cell phone, fill Camelback, pack extra energy gel, waterproof whistle, wear sun protection, if a one man canoe, strap on an extra paddle.
2. Fuel: Charging the ocean requires food in your belly and hydration to reduce cramping. I like to suggest oatmeal or any complex carb at least an hour before departure. What’s great are two pieces of a nutty whole grain bread with a protein spread like almond butter or low salt peanut butter. Coconut water is a favorite of mine that offers lots of potassium which allows you to hydrate more quickly. I also squirt a full pack of an energy gel before a Maliko run. I avoid caffeine or super charged sugary drinks as these can actually dehydrate you and cause your energy to crash hard.
3. Body: Strength, stamina and cardio, and more intense cardio. The biggest thing I notice when training my sport specific athletes or weekend water warriors is the lack of cardio and cross-training. It’s a common component that get’s overlooked but it’s so important. Strength and body stamina takes time to build but is necessary too. There are many formulas on the how to and it’s based on your sport, your goals and your current level of fitness so I can’t write one program to fit you all. You’ll have to come train with me for your specialized program.
There’s something happening world-wide on lakes, oceans, streams and even on the Colorado Rapids, Alaska and now, even on mainstream TV, like Bravo TV’s Millionaire Matchmaker, and that is stand up paddling! You wouldn’t be reading or listening to this segment if you too weren’t drawn into the explosive new craze of stand up paddling or SUP as is it a great way to get healthy.
Suzie Cooney Radio Show Segment: September 20, 2011 Maui Breakfast Club. Every Tuesday @ 7:38am Health & Fitness Segment Tweet
Why Stand Up Paddling is So Healthy Radio Segment with Suzie Cooney LISTEN HERE
Now, thousands of people are discovering that you can as I wrote in my article “Shred to Shed” and blasted on the airways just as recent as this past August.
It’s really true. SUP or stand up paddling is a known way to get healthy fast. People are rehabbing after hip or knee
Kevin V. is in amazing shape and now races nation wide!
surgeries faster, meeting new friends and new soul mates and all of this makes you healthy. Going to the gym is still great, and don’t forget, eating the right foods is paramount to eating for energy while your paddling, but wow, look what’s happening to your spouse, your friends and movie stars! Hop aboard and get healthy with SUP.
Stand up paddling is a part of all my clients’ cross-training requirements and believe me, their bodies have transformed and so has their lives, cardio health and I’ve seen waistlines shrink. Don’t think about, watch it from the beach, get on that board and paddle. You too will soon discover the joys and amazing benefits of SUP.
Another article you may enjoy talks about how SUP is helping people cope with depression. It’s a mind and body experience gliding across the water. Read my article here titled: SUP For Your Mind’s Health: Aqua Therapy For Depression.
You are one paddle stroke closer to health. Write us and let us know how SUP has changed your maybe unhealthy life, into a way of life!
Aloha and see you on the water!
Suzie Cooney, CPT of Suzie Trains Maui
Suzie Cooney is a sponsored Team SUP Rider for Naish International and is supported by OluKai Premium Footwear & Kaenon Polarized Eye-wear. She is also a Team Rider for Indo Board, certified personal trainer, radio host for the Maui Breakfast Club, Model, True Collection Athlete and hosts FREE SUP Events on the island of Maui and within other communities.
To learn more about Suzie and she can help you get healthy with SUP click here.
Maliko gulch, Maui and the history that surrounds it, is one to be respected. Not only will the steep cliffs and the sounds of the wind whirling inside take your breath, but you’ll also experience a rush of adrenaline as you paddle out of it, into the open ocean of huge swells where you can catch glides up to 300+ yards long. (If you want to read more about Maliko, see my article:“The Magic of Maliko” I wrote for Makai Ocean Lifestyle magazine here. )
TweetAs the popularity of SUP grows, especially down wind paddling here on Maui, I’m compelled to write this small blog entry, not to only share in the beauty and the intrigue that draws thousands of eager stand up paddlers and OC1 adventurers to this place, but also to give a heads up to the hidden challenges that can be very dangerous and can make for a disastrous run. If you think you are ready to attempt your first Maliko “down winder”, I say, that if you don’t know, don’t go. I’m not at all discouraging people, I’m just sharing how Maliko appears on the inside of the bay, is not what goes on just 50 yards on the outside.
photo courtesy of OluKai Premium Footwear
Being an experienced paddler, every time I paddle out of the gulch down the coast 9 miles, it is never the same and that’s exciting! I’ve gone down with a wall of water breaking across the gulch over head high, near the ramp, and other days it’s as calm as a lake. So what I’m saying is what may appear calm on the inside is typically very different as you exit into the open ocean waterways. Unless you go with an experienced paddler, and I mean experienced with someone who’s done many Maliko runs in all kinds of conditions; you best have lots of water time in big swells and heavy winds, and you better have upper body strength, combined with a good cardio base and have the knowledge on what to do IF you get in trouble.
I’m seeing more and more folks showing up for their first, unescorted Maliko run and it concerns me that some of them are not experienced enough. Sure they’ll probably be fine, but from some of the emails and stories I’ve been reading and hearing about as of late, it’s not a casual paddle on the lake. Besides the huge, jagged rocks on the shoreline that the swell may push you into, there’s wind shifts and tide changes, and if the winds are off shore and East, you can bet that it means trouble or at the least a very un ideal experience.
As a SUP instructor, competitor, and as a fitness specialist specializing in SUP conditioning, people ask me to take them down Maliko. I often pause and tell them nicely that it’s a good goal to have, but first let’s get your board skills down , your body endurance and strength up to handle those conditions.
I really want people to have a good experience and get the thrill of the long glides and rides; I’m just saying use common sense. Get yourself in tip top shape, paddle some timed, endurance distance on flat water to get your body used to paddling at that intensity, strengthen your leg, work on your balance and learn water safety.
Me coaching Barb before her run
Practice paddling in all types of weather conditions; rain, big chop, side chop, light to heavy wind, gusty wind and even practice paddling directly into the wind. Learn more about rail pressure, foot work (changing foot position on board to surf stance) and maybe even rent a downwind board and practice on flat water. I might also suggest that you do some “mini” downwinders at a shorter distance to get your legs used to the chop and learn about how you can improve your paddling and maybe your fitness at the same time. Study the wind patterns and know the difference between on shore and off shore winds, trade winds, wind swell direction, know if it’s low or high tide where you enter and where you exit.
Downwind paddling is a blast and very addicting. Better to share with a safety buddy and to go with someone who knows the path. He/she should be very very experienced and know how to pick the right line, read the currents, tide and weather conditions. It’s not a great idea to go alone, and if you do carry your cell phone in a water proof casing and tell someone where you are coming out at your anticipated time. If you don’t feel right, feel tired or whatever, listen to your gut. Prequalify yourself and make sure that you have water confidence, experience and strength along with of course better than decent SUP skills.
Here are some resources to make your downwind paddling experiences safe and fun:
Suzie Trains Maui: SUP Fitness Tips: Leg conditioning, upper body endurance exercises
If you’d like to train with me and build your stand up paddling endurance, fine tune your paddling stroke, foot work; give me a call I can help you. Having a body that is strong and prepared for anything will give you miles and miles of more fun on the water! Be safe and see you on the water!