Suzie Trains Maui – and Eddie!

Back in the day – 1966-1970 to be exact – Ed and I were playing at surfing the mushy calf-high waves we had in balmy South Florida. We were the Beach Boys-era sweethearts. From 1970-2007 we didn’t surf, using our ocean time to sail, scuba, windsurf, fish, finish college and raise the family.  2001 found us moving life to Oregon, and by 2007 we discovered standup paddling and were back in the surf 4 decades later!

In the natural progression of things, two diverse events influenced our Summer 2012 activities.  One was Ed’s second rotator cuff surgery (yes, he was brave enough to go through that torture twice) and our trip to Maui to try the short version of the Ho’olaule’a event. Four days after the coolest downwind adventure either of us had experiences poor Ed went under the knife. But not before we were hooked on downwind, open ocean fun!


In the pictures above, it’s easy to see we are still the happy ocean-loving “kids” we were back in 1967 but it’s also easy to see that our abs are a bit worse for wear at age 63. Fortunately, just before the start of our event, Maui local and globally respected standup paddler/athlete, Suzie Cooney, provided a pre-race warmup. That gave us a chance not only to meet Suzie but to get to know a bit about her dedication to training a diverse group of clients from the casual paddler to elite athletes. As Ed went from wearing a sling to hefting the 3 lb weights he’s now using in PT we both made a commitment to getting into our best functional fitness over the next 8 months.

As much as we already know about exercise and nutrition, we realize that insights, motivation and programming provided by a respected professional is mandatory, especially as we embrace our seventh decade. Over the summer, Suzie Cooney has been kind enough to listen to our plan to follow her training “at a distance.” Nothing can replace actual time at her training facility with her customized training delivered face to face. Just the same, we have made a decision to glean as much as we can from her blog and conversations.  We have a solid goal in mind. We plan to be at the start line on May 11, 2013 ready to enjoy the full Olukai Ho’olaule’a downwind run from Maliko Gulch to Kanaha.

“Pie in the sky” – This Saturday I plan to join other hopefuls as I buy a couple of lotto tickets – would be cool to win $5000 or so. We’d probably jet off to Maui in November and prepare for Maliko at Suzie’s upcoming clinic. Meanwhile, training in Oregon is underway. The “training table” is becoming ever more healthful and an Indo Board is on its way to our home.  The digital age could very well allow us the best connection with our partner in preparation, Suzie Cooney. Most watched film this week – this training session from the Suzie Trains Maui blog. YES! We want endurance, core strength and balance. This is an excellent overview of some training options. Bring it, Suzie!

Suzie Cooney: Aloha, Respect and Solid Expertise

 I recently had the good fortune to meet Suzie Cooney doing what she does so often: providing her expertise for community events with great energy and generosity. You can also catch her working with clients at Suzie Trains Maui.  She has done over 23 free women’s clinics since 2009 that were, according to Suzie,  completely rewarding. Experiencing her enthusiasm as we did, it’s obvious that “giving” of her talent is a natural.

She gave the group doing a “fun race” part of the Olukai Ho’olaule’a event a well-designed warm-up before our event. It warmed us up – and with her encouraging words – helped us get the jitters out.

It is not a surprise that Suzie has chosen to connect her love of standup paddling with her passion for helping others gain fitness and knowledge. Having been an athlete prior to arriving to Maui ( 1999 ), and also having had the opportunity to work with people in sports orthopedics on the mainland, having knowledge of the anatomy – putting the two together made great sense.  Suzie explains this further, “I have worked both sides of the counter so to speak!  As an athlete, getting injured, coming back and then having the chance to help people with a better outcome from their own injury gave me great compassion.  I thoroughly enjoy helping people be their best and providing them an environment to succeed.”

My husband, Ed, and I enjoyed every moment of our 3+ mile down-winder so much that we plan to train for the longer Maliko run next year. We are certain that wind and wave conditions will temper that decision – one not to be taken lightly. Suzie will be a wonderful person to help us through training and that day-of-the-event decision. She paddles that stretch of ocean regularly and shares this insight, “Maliko is a stretch of open ocean that commands respect, supreme water confidence and body endurance combined with the skill of paddle surfing and stand up paddling in the most intense and extreme conditions. A paddler who ventures on this 10 mile adventure must be ready for anything.  The swells combined with high winds usually averaging over 25mph offer a thrilling roller coaster ride down big troughs that can connect with what we call “bumps” up to 200 yards long, sometimes longer.  The exhilarating take offs and drops leave you wanting more. Ten miles of this without having to paddle your brains out is absolutely addicting!” The picture to the right shows Suzie is riding an “addictive” section of “bumps.”

Another Suzi, a recent client of Cooney’s, recently arrived to Maui and found “Suzie Trains Maui” via the internet and through friends. Whatever the fitness level the client comes with, Cooney can customize the program to best meet both needs and expectation. The “other Suzie” was already an incredible surfer, sponsored skateboarder and all around charger.  Cooney was quite busy at the time the new client arrived, but Cooney made space in her schedule for “the other” Suzie. She insisted they start training right away and together they decided Maliko was “it” – just the right event to train toward.  The OluKai race would be her first competition and so the training began.  She felt with her base of surf knowledge and water experience this would be the ultimate challenge for her and allow her to have a goal and get into tip top shape.

She actually bought Cooney’s old race board and immediately Cooney got her out training in all conditions.  She then entered on her own, a smaller local race which turned out to be a crazy, unusual race with head winds the entire way.  Suzie Cooney explains, “It was tough, but a good taste for her. The moment I saw her paddle that Naish 14 foot Glide, I knew she had a special talent. I was stoked for her.”

In talking to Suzie, it is apparent that she is in the business heart and soul. She explains, “It’s a huge reward to prepare someone for their big day down Maliko.  It can go either really great or really bad. Sometimes people think they are ready and sometimes fear overcomes them and they simply can’t stand most of the run.  Coming out of the gulch takes the most out of people. It appears very calm and mellow from the ramp in the bay and soon as you hit the point, the wind can take your board and the swell can take you down so hard and fast you don’t know what hit you.  Most go out on their knees until they get the strength and body endurance to paddle hard against swell and big side winds until you’re out quite a ways.

I try to encourage people to interval train at high intensity because getting out of the gulch can take a lot of energy and there is no time to dilly dally. It’s full on until you get to turn the nose of your board down and head towards the amazing Iao Valley.  I teach people how to read the reefs along the way, where to have land marks and how to manage the changing conditions and often change half way down.  Keeping calm is the most important thing and relaxing your body if your not used to winds blasting at your back up to 40 mph.  Most people who have a wind sport in their life, like windsurfing or kiting do very well. They know how to read the water and wind which helps. 

All of Suzie’s clients first must do mini downwinders withher. A short down-winder could be like the one Ed and I did  from Paia Bay to Kanaha.  That experience serves to get novices  used to all that motion in the ocean.  From Suzie’s experience with many first timers, ” It’s a pretty big deal when we get to the harbor mouth and turn that tight corner in and then this sigh leaves their body, shoulders drop and the tension leaves their bodies! It’s pretty awesome.  Some are shaking, a couple have cried tears of joy and maybe a little relief.”

The people most likely to be labeled “watermen” (or waterwomen) are the least likely to adopt that label for themselves. Our time in Maui, especially at the Olukai Ho’olaule’a event, made us very aware of the waterman culture and spirit. We asked Suzie about that, “I believe always in giving back, for the more you give the more you get, especially from the ocean.  I’ve always admired how long time waterman and waterwomen have taken me under their wings and taught me how to respect the powers of the ocean and I wanted to do the same. So many people have no idea what it’s like to manage big or small waves, about the currents, the tides, the winds and how everything affects all aspects of what we enjoy out there.  Kula Sunn, Rell Sunn‘s sister is the biggest inspiration to me as she has spent a lot of time showing by example in all that she does.  We’ve surfed and dirt biked together and she would give her last gallon of gas or the shirt off her back.

It seems like a lot of athletes focus on what they won last or how many sponsors they have, and it’s really too bad.  They should be rewarded by the good deeds they do around their sport. SUP seems to attract kind and giving people who want to share with the world their joy for the sport. I love that.”

We were very fortunate to get to know Suzie. The true spirit of Aloha resonates within her spirit! When you’re in Maui looking for expert fitness and SUP training, call Suzie Trains Maui and Standup Paddling Fitness. 

Aloha Spirit the Olukai Way

Not too long ago I downloaded an app for my phone so I could learn some Hawaiian phrases. When spoken authentically it’s not only music to the ears but it’s a solid study of meaning and nuance. For many reasons, the app sits unused on my phone these days.  The more I experience the language from those who live it the less I want to “pretend” to understand it.

For example, at the recent Olukai Ho’olaule’a events the experience surpassed the words. To quote from the event’s website, “Ho’olaule’a – literally means “celebration”, but for [Olukai], it’s also an expression of gratitude. Each May, we hold our interpretation of this storied Hawaiian tradition on Maui’s north shore. The event blends elite competition with family-friendly cultural activities and gathers some of the world’s best SUP and OC1 paddlers to race the legendary 8-mile Maliko downwind run. Friends and families come together to enjoy canoe sailing and surfing, ancient Hawaiian games, traditional luau, hula, and live music. We take this opportunity to recognize and honor our ‘Ohana Giveback partners, as the community shares collective gifts of time, energy, and spirit.

After the event, Ed and I strolled down the beach to wait our turn for a ride on the Olukai sailing canoe. The team’s canoe had been blessed in the traditional ceremony just the evening before. A group of guys wearing the yellow Olukai shirts were sitting in the sand, so we joined them. One, Ross Ka’a we later learned, greeted us with a smile and drew out our stories of sailing, our love of the ocean and such. We learned a bit about his life, paddling and a few races but not much more. It was obvious that he was a waterman, but the extent of his spirit of aloha hadn’t hit us yet.

We took our turn on the sailing canoe, zooming through the surf and sun – WOW! what a chicken-skin ride!

Soon after that it was time for the awards ceremony. At the front of the stage was a full sized outrigger paddle made of a blend of koa and native woods. It was set on a base carved in the shape of four Makau, or bone hooks. That Makua is the Olukai mark, the traditional Polynesian symbol worn for strength, good luck, and safe passage over water.

Later during the awards ceremony for the Maliko Gulch competitors for the Ho’olaule’a event we had another treat. Little did we know that we had been chatting on the beach with Ross Ka’a, the master craftsman who created that award. He never gave a hint as to his relationship with the team or his expertise in building traditional paddles and crafting with wood. Speaking with some who have known Ross for decades, we learned he is a master wood worker gifted in the craft of making art pieces from native woods. He has been a friend to Olukai for a long time.

Toward the end of the awards ceremony Ross was called up to present the trophy he’d created to Olukai team leader, Marvin Otsuji. Marvin has been leading Team OluKai as master steersman for 25 years. The team broke the longstanding record in the Na Holo Kai race and captured the overall 2008, 2009 and 2010 season championships. Marvin led the team to the most winning record for the past 15 years straight.

Not only is Marvin a great waterman with an innate knowledge of some of the trickiest channels in the world, he competes with pure “aloha.” In a sport where wind and weather, equipment and demands of the sport can wreck havoc on any given race, his consistent success could be rooted in his love of the sport – without expectation. That’s pure aloha mixed with tradition and culture.

Yes, I think it is time to delete that app from my phone. Learning to pronounce a few Hawaiian phrases pales in the face of experiencing the meaning behind the words. Practicing pronunciation – not so much. “Living” a life with aloha and embracing the day with Ho’olaule’a – now we’re talking!

Sailing Canoes, Hawaiian Culture and a Jazzy Good Time!

Look at that sailing canoe! Even sitting on the sand it looks fast and elegant. Except for the block on the main sheet the entire craft is made the traditional way with ropes, knots and wood. Ed and I had the chance to take a ride with part of the Team Olukai as part of the activities around the Olukai Ho’olaule’a event.

Since 1987, the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association has been leading the charge to ‘learn, revive, educate, and practice ancient Hawaiian skills as they relate to sailing canoes and the Hawaiian culture.’ As the team races various courses across the Hawaiian island chain, at each stop the team offers free canoe rides to locals and tourists, educating them on the cultural and historical importance of the craft. We hopped aboard with three of the team members and set off for exhilarating fun.

Throughout the sail the team shared stories and information, tradition and obvious commitment to their sport. The winds and seas were probably quite mild compared to what they’d usually experience in a crossing, but we had the jazzy, sea-splashed pleasure of getting a taste of the experience. 


Inquiring about the ti leaves and wreaths on the canoe, we learned that it had recently been completely re-built. That day was its first launch since being blessed the evening before. The more we learned about the entire story the more engaging it became. For Ed and for me the experience riding along with the team was more than impressive. It provided a unique combination of harnessing wind, surf, paddles and camaraderie – all dear to us. We can’t wait to return to Maui and the Olukai Ho’olaulea next year.

Olukai – Strong tradition of giving

On May 12 we were fortunate to be on Maui and to have the chance to experience the last 3 miles of the famous Maliko Gulch run as part of the Olukai Ho’olaulea paddling event. From the first contact with the team from Olukai at Paia Youth and Cultural Center to the finish of the final participants a Kanaha Beach Park it was obvious that Olukai lives their vision and mission daily.

It is a lot more than the excellent products they deliver.  To summarize from their website, “OluKai was conceived from a desire to create a better class of products for the life we live in and around the water. There is a strong tradition of giving an offering or tribute in Polynesian culture.”  Let me share a story of just one of the dedicated Olukai team members I met and observed at the event.

Michelle St John, on the far right in the picture, first started chatting with me after I finished the 3 mile fun race segment and we were waiting for the Maliko Gulch racers to arrive in an hour or so. In the Olukai booth, she and some team members were answering questions, and generally giving us kudos and smiles for having done our first Maui North Shore down-winder. Suddenly, Michelle looked at me (62 year old, salt sprayed, sweaty person) and asked, ‘Are you thirsty?”

Heck yeah I was thirsty – I didn’t think to bring water on the SUP journey. The ice cold bottle of water she handed me was about the best tasting refreshment in the world! Because of that exchange I happened to notice Michelle throughout the rest of the day.  She didn’t remain standing casually on the beach for long. As you can see by the banners, the wind had picked up by 1:00.  

Paddlers started arriving in droves, 10-12 at a time. As they sprinted to the finish, they ditched their boards and dashed off. The hand full of strong young teens ready to collect the boards and stack them out of the way were overloaded in no time.

Without a moment’s hesitation I saw Michelle dash into the fray, giving a hand or managing to collect and move 14 foot paddle boards for as long as it took.  Splashing knee deep in the surf or slogging through the deep wet sand there was one consistent thing – a big smile and plenty of energy.

 That’s the spirit that pervaded the day and the event.

This annual event blends elite competition with family-friendly cultural activities including canoe sailing, ancient Hawaiian games, traditional luau, hula, and live music. We had an amazing time – from the incredible clear waters and knee-knocking swells to the luau feast and traditional games.  What a great way to support Olukai and to be able to benefit their “Ohana Giveback Program.” We saw it up close and first-hand. This is not a “your logo here” company! Way to go, Olukai.