SUP Senses: Listening

Taking a spin around the perimeter of a glassy lake at sunset, traveling upstream in a class I whitewater stretch or gliding shore-ward on a gently breaking wave or sense are alive.  We experience sights, smells, the feel of water on our bare feet and the sound of water. We hear the swoosh of a glassy glide and the slap slap slap of small ripples playing off the hull.

Sometimes when I am training for a steady pace over a longer time or distance, I set the “metronome” to the sound of the slap-slap-slap of water on the board. 1-2-3 and then 1-2-3, switch sides and, 1-2-3 then 1-2-3 in a steady pace. It gets easier to maintain a pace with a steady beat going in my head.

Then comes a real eye-opener. I had a GoPro facing forward on the bow and then facing back at me during a recent glassy paddle as dusk approached last week. (video here) My 1-2-3 was way more slow in pace than I had felt while actually executing the pace.  I needed to add some intervals – and soon! With just 51 days until the first downwind event of the season I want to be totally confident and ready to go my race and my skill level- but do it well.

karmathonevent030Last Sunday I had the chance to paddle a sweet, but frosty 42 degree, 6-miler through two loops in the Deschutes River as it winds through Bend, OR.  I went with a local SUP surfer and racer, Randall Barna. Randall watched my paddle stroke and tweaked my reach and return a bit. We discussed how much Karen Wrenn’s suggestion to keep my knees and hips facing forward even as the upper torso/ribs twist. Randall had a cool way of creating the image I needed to drive forward and be more efficient with my technique.

I tend to fall backward when tossed off balance, so Randall explained the reasons to stay fully balanced on all 4 corners of both feet. Rather than driving the board hard and down – then forward, the better image is “create a buoyant feel as you press the board forward with the sense of floating it lightly but firmly.” Thinking about these tweaks allowed miles to float by easily.

I still need to build a better fitness base for the upcoming paddle season. According to Suzie Cooney, CPT (of Suzie Trains Maui, a Naish team rider), “Music added to your own SUP training session can make a huge difference in you enjoying your training session and can actually help you increase your mileage and decrease your time. Get to know your heart and lung capacity and stress yourself accordingly. Make sure you are in good physical health and have proper clearance from your physician.” Great advice.  I read her excellent article on training with a balanced tempo playlist, donned my heart rate monitor and had some great paddles so far this week. You can do the same. Take the few short minutes needed to explore Suzie’s online training article – then go enjoy standup paddling with all your senses!

SUP Muse: Suzie Cooney

The grin and enthusiasm are a constant! Suzie Cooney, CPT, lives her expertise!

The grin and enthusiasm are a constant! Suzie Cooney, CPT, lives her expertise!

It was almost a year ago that Ed and I had the chance to meet a virtual whirlwind of expertise and energy, Suzie Cooney (CPT) of Suzie Trains Maui. We tentatively tested the waters of the Olukai Ho’olaule’a by doing the “fun race” of three short miles and emerged from the water wanting only MORE! We knew that there was no way our “almost-ready-for-Medicare” bodies were trained for the wind and waves of the full run from Maliko Gulch, so we stayed in touch with Suzie.

Great plan! You too can enjoy her training no matter where you live via a SKYPE session or you can enhance your Maui vacation paddling by booking a local session. Be sure to plan well in advance. Suzie works hard sharing her training and expertise from large group workshops, articles and private sessions.

Being among the tribe of “Wounded Warriors” now and then, we were delighted to discover solid advice on the Suzie Trains Maui website and on the Naish surfing website. We are most recently doing some interesting core work that’s fun and challenging. We want to be ready when we grab our Naish Glides and Mana series surfboards in 63 short days. Yes, drooling can commence when you see the image (below).

The Glide and Mana series are calling my name!

The Glide and Mana series are calling my name!

 Over the winter months we have been training with TRX and the Indo Board. Guided by Suzie’s video and e-mail support we make progress. Since we’re rarely actually out having great fun standup paddling these last months (but the skiing has been great) the most important part of Suzie’s connection with us is an unabashed love of the ocean, the wind, the waves and the glides! We can easily use the GoPro HERO to film segments of our technique, then have a variety of people give us input. Editing clips of GoPro footage is easy – easy to edit and easy to share.
Suzie’s regular e-mail updates and blog articles are almost as good as being there. Yes, we wanted to be there when she paddled with whales. No, we didn’t want to be there when a large north shore winter wave smacked her onto a reef (yes, there was some blood). Through it all, enthusiasm reigns!
Recently we exchanged an e-mail, I had some concern about my technique and an old series of knee injuries. Suzie replied, “I bet you’re getting excited!  Train, train and train! The ol’ knees will be warmer here, so don’t worry.” That connected to our balance, strength, agility and power routines will get us there (did I say 56 days?)
I can see Suzie on the Glide now. She described a recent workout, “Surf is huge still and I caught a long wave on the Glide yesterday. I was coming into the harbor after my laps.  It was waist high. Too fun!”

Fitness Journey Back

All summer long I have been paddling about 5 days a week but feeling a bit bad about all the fun. My husband, Ed, had a summer doing PT for rotator cuff repair, Lifting a 1 lb weight and pulling a red TheraBand just didn’t equate to fun. While staying in cardio shape hiking the incredible trails and peaks are Central Oregon has been terrific, we prefer our water sports. Last Saturday he got the okay to get on his board – but “take it easy,”  said surgeon Cara Walther. The spectacular first day of fall weather agreed with a casual cruise with friends up at Elk Lake.

According to Ed’s first paddle back after 5 months shoulder rehab

Since Ed will be training under the expertise of Suzie Cooney (Suzie Trains Maui, a Naish team rider– you can too, just set up your Skype training – left column on her blog) he decided to give the shoulder a nice long warm up. After that, he paddled along the shoreline observing which muscles seemed to be engaged – abs and lats more than the shoulder.  Balancing on the board on the lake seemed easier than balancing on the Indo board that he plans to use this upcoming week.

Why did we get an Indo Board? Some training examples using the Indo board can be found on Suzie Cooney’s website.

According to information we found online, “Indo Board Balance Trainers are the most effective land-based means of training for SUP racing, SUP surfing and Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga. Standing on an Indo Board simulates the instability that a rider experiences when riding a stand up paddle board and allows for repetitious functional exercises that directly enhance the user’s abilities.” With cooler weather and snow on the horizon for the next 6 months, that’s going to be a fine addition to our training mix. You just can’t get enough core strength and balance.

Going for my headstand while comfortable and cozy in my Sweet Waterwear performance paddling top

Balance was on both our minds. I had set a goal of doing a headstand on my board sometime during the summer. In spite of lots of yoga and headstand practice I could only muster a halfway headstand. We all know the mantra, and it’s true, “it’s a journey.” There is no place in which we simply get fit and then remain fit. Balance is a practice, just like most things that are important. The fact that I completed the partial headstand and remained dry simply means I held back a bit and didn’t quite go all the way to my edge. (Next warm day we’ll have another go at it!)

Rick’s got the reflection both on the water and in his mind

Another important thing we celebrated while paddling on Saturday was the one year anniversary since our good friend, Rick, was surprised by a sudden stroke. Fit, healthy and active, that health incident came as a complete shock to Rick. Perhaps his good health gave him the start point for full recovery and the ability to resume standup paddling with all the confidence he’d had before.  All four of us have been more aware than ever of the need to stay focused on an exercise program that includes cardio, balance, flexibility and strength. Now that we’re heading to our mid-60’s we’ve got a lot of inspiration to keep the active fun a central part of how we live.

Core Summer SUP Fitness

Staying in top form and being prepared to ride big waves and glide big down wind runs is a full time job for elite athletes in our sport of SUP. For Suzie Cooney, there is another aspect to her professional role as a leader in standup paddling. She’s taken her solid background in fitness training and has translated it to an online resource for thousands. Of course, for those fortunate enough to book training time with her on Maui, that’s the best option. For those of us an ocean away, we’re glad she takes the time to keep her blogs and websites rich with resources and information.

For anyone who has taken a video that’s meant to tell a story or to teach a skill, you know how tough it is to get the right shots, the right editing and best end product. It takes skill – and TIME. In a busy world, doesn’t it always seem like the busiest people take the time to pursue their passion and share their expertise.  Without benefit of Suzie‘s blog and videos bolstered by some SKYPE “distance training sessions” I know that the expectation of being fit and ready for our down wind adventures in Maui next May wouldn’t be what we’re dreaming of.

 Ed and I are in week 2 of our 36 week “Journey to Maliko and the Ho’olaule’a.”  (You can arrange for your own distance learning session with Suzie by scheduling a SKYPE session.) Here’s our plan for this week:

We are stocking our “home gym” in the garage with a balance ball and have arranged a wide variety of weights, a spin bike and some balance equipment. Since Ed is still not released for “real life” training, he will continue with his shoulder PT exercises. I am joining in on that series. My thought process is that I may as well keep my shoulders as strong and flexible as possible. I

It’s still great paddling weather here in Central Oregon, so water time will complement “gym” time for now.

Ed and I both watched Suzie’s session planned for one of her clients. You can watch how Suzie integrates both TRX and INDO board into the workout. We’ve got both of those items on the “wish list,” and hope to have them ready to use by mid-October when Ed should be good to go shoulder-wise. Take a few minutes to watch this video. If you don’t have some of the equipment, like the INDO board, it’s easy to click from Suzie’s site and get first class customer service for your purchase from INDO Board.

If you haven’t tried TRX training you may want to locate a class in your town. While the average gym class doesn’t focus on standup paddling needs specifically, you can get a good idea of the training philosophy behind that equipment.  We are looking forward to moving in that direction. According to Suzie, Naish team rider, “You’re really going to feel the power in your stroke from the deep obliques!”

YES! That’s what we want. We can’t do everything from week 1 or 2 but we will start where we are right now. Beginning today, we’ll be using our balance ball with focus on balance and core.

Radiating Insights and SUP Aloha

I live in Oregon and have had the good fortune to meet Karen Wrenn a few times. From those experiences I recognized that on top of being an incredible athlete and a stellar Mom, she is extraordinarily giving when it comes to what she’s learned through SUP. So I follow her blog, and follow her posts on Facebook.  You may want to as well.

Karen Wrenn introducing her group to proper paddle technique. Photo by Ed Shasek

Just last week at the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge we arrived on Friday just in time to attend the Positively Kai Grom Clinic.  There, nearly engulfed by several dozen eager pre-teens was smiling, calm Karen.  Kids at that age can behave like a herd of cats, but they remained focused and attentive throughout the land training. Parents hovering around the edges seemed particularly pleased when Karen made sure the kids got their PDFs or borrowed one for water time. One worried mom pulled Karen to the side, hands holding tight on your young son’s shoulders. After a few moments’ conversation, with a smile, the mom handed off the boy who no longer seemed so hesitant. Confidence at each step of the way seemed to be the theme.

With the clinic on Friday, a course race on Saturday and a blustery down wind run on Sunday every on of the top athletes had plenty on their plates. Just the same, Karen took some time to answer my questions about what would be my very first experience on the Columbia River. I haven’t determined what race board to buy just yet and have only about 4 lake races using a 12’6″ Hobie or Amundson. Steve Gates had already hooked me on the benefits of using a race board like the Naish Glides he carries at Big Winds.  As a Naish team rider, Karen showed me why she chose the Glide as well.

I had never been in the Columbia River, not had I ever paddled any board larger than 12 feet long. I asked Karen, “Would it be crazy for me to use my 11’3″ Amundson surfboard in the conditions we’ll have in Sunday? Will I be like dead last, or crazy slow?” The winds were expected to be 30-40 mph and i was freaking out more than a little.

That was the beginning of a valuable conversation. I learned where to go on the river and what to do should a barge come along. (A HUGE double barge did send me almost to the Washington side of the river)  She explained the sort of swells I might encounter and how to surf them to connect the most glides. Best of all, her easy assessment of my ability to not only do the race but also enjoy it gave me one more level of confidence.  Cool too, was being able to watch Karen’s technique in the course race, rounding marks, planting her paddle for the “catch” and using her legs and core. And did her Glide ever “gliiiiiiiide!”

Karen Wrenn rounds the bay buoy in the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge course race. Photo by Ed Shasek

I guess it all added up. Holy cow! I am solidly addicted to the sort of conditions we had on the Gorge Paddle Challenge downwinder. Totally jazzed I can’t wait to get back there to do it again – Summer 2013.

It hadn’t been too long ago that the ultimate SUP race, the Molokai 2 Oahu race took place. I have been a swimming, sailing, surfing, ocean person since birth and crossing big ocean expanses (with safety and support) has been a dream. (I wrote about that dream in an earlier blog)  Could I ever train enough in this seventh decade of life to manage that? Deliriously I thought – maybe?

With further insight I realize that the novice attempting that crossing – in or out of that event- would be somewhat disrespectful to the power of that channel and the esteem of the challenge. Karen wrote a powerful blog about Molokai 2 Oahu not too long ago. The article wove the challenge with the tradition. It underscored the dedication and training commitment the athletes who successfully cross the channel have invested.

I know that the Molokai 2 Oahu will always be what it has been to me – a dream. But it is also a window to what the top athletes in SUP can do. In my own way, at my own level I can be my best by keeping personal abilities in perspective. Training as much as I can as wisely as I can toward the events that make sense for me might be more fulfilling than chasing a dream.

Karen Wrenn with her signature smile racing to the finish.

Thanks to the athletes like Karen, Candice Appleby, Brit Oliphant and Suzie Cooney we can all aspire to our best. Follow their blogs, see what they dedicate to the sport through Facebook and YouTube video. Be the best YOU can be and celebrate the journey. Smile!

Positively Kai: Inspiring Youth

Kai demonstrating proper arm position. Every one in the group had a chance for one on one technique guidance. Photo by Ed Shasek

We were fortunate to arrive at the 2012 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge a day early, in time to watch one of the youngest elite standup paddlers hosting his Positively Kai Grom Clinic.  Kai Lenny had a great weekend winning both the course and the downwind races – and the waterman award. If you had been there to wander around amidst the 200+ kids and parents participating in and observing the clinic you may have formed your own idea about who won what!

One of the youngest SUPers with one of the many volunteers

We usually think of a sports leader as one who has had decades of experience. Often, the time to actively share expertise with the younger generation occurs after the athlete has reached a certain level of age and maturity. Not so in the case of 19 year old Kai. He and friends, including Chuck Patterson and Karen Wrenn (all Nasih team riders)among others, staged a remarkable day long event. Some of the paddlers, even as young as 4 years old, had never paddled before. No problem. All were brought up to the level that allowed independence for a casual race on  a hot and fairly calm day on the Columbia River.

It’s hard to know how many of the 200 participants came away newly excited about standup paddling and how many might be inspired to continue to hone their skills.  In a time when kids often admire their sports heroes from a distance it’s great to watch the youngest generation mentored by one of their own. That is the SUP Perspective and mission.

Photo by Ed Shasek

Many of the grom clinic participants lined the shore of Hood River’s Waterfront Park on Saturday and Sunday watching their favorite pros up close and personal. One of the turn buoys was barely 10 yards from shore. Watching the elite men and women rounding that mark was super exciting stuff. Turning techniques and race strategy, segments of drafting or breaking off on a sprint mixed up the event for spectators.

Kids lining the shore raced up and down cheering for their favorites. My guess is that many of the Positively Kai Grom Clinic participants were back on their “home” river or lake practicing their new skills.  If any of you reading this had a child participating, keep us posted. If they plan to join in on the Gorge Paddle Challenge next year we’d love to see pictures.  We’ve seen some of your comments on Kai’s Facebook page – and welcome your thoughts here as well.

Better yet! How do YOU make a positive difference for the kids who see you paddle by and practically drool over a chance to give the sport a try? If you are thinking about ways, toss your ideas our way via our Facebook page. We can get some brainstorming going on.

In Bend, Oregon we have a super resource in the father daughter team of Dennis Oliphant and his elite SUP athlete daughter, Brit Oliphant. (video here) They have worked with the MBSEF ski and snowboard youth all summer. Off the snow and into the Deschutes River, Brit can be seen almost every day teaching paddle technique, core exercise, sweet whitewater skills and a few fast buoy turns.

Brit Oliphant using skills she has taught to MBSEF youth all summer. Top standup athletes are the “elders” of the sport when they help introduce the next generation to the sport.

Like youth everywhere, kids need your old paddles, the standup board you had before upgrading or a donation now and then. You may not have skills to share, but you can influence our youngest generation, get them out and UP on a SUP board on the water. That’s the way to spread aloha where you live.

Who do you know who’s out there connecting the SUP Perspective across generations – young to older or older to the youngest coming into the sport? Simply e-mail us, send a photo and we’ll share your “talk story” ideas here at Elder SUP.

Don’t Run a Marathon in Flip Flops

Some background: I am just a regular person doing a little surfing, touring, racing, and recreational paddling.  I could get one paddle that is versatile enough to do most everything, or I could start to build out my quiver of more specialized standup paddles. The size and shape of the blade, length of the shaft are just a few things to consider when choosing a paddle. Choosing a board is even more complex and one size for all types of water and surf or purpose gets complicated. I always go to an expert for advisement when making a decision about sports equipment and SUP equipment is no different.

Sometimes people ask me, “I am just a recreational SUPer. Why do I need an expensive paddle?” First of all, “expensive” is a word that’s not easy to quantify in terms of comfort, freedom from injury, pure enjoyment, efficiancy and “feel” while enjoying your sport.

I usually answer, but it is a silly answer, “You don’t run a marathon in flip flops. Sure flip flops are the ultra comfort shoe, but not for running or even for much all-terrain walking. The $100 shoe you get for hiking, running or walking is “expensive,” but it is a huge value. The same goes for paddles.”

Being up on the right board is so much better than being dunked with a “faster’ but maybe less stable board choice.

I was talking to Steve Gates, owner of Big Winds in Hood River, Oregon a few months ago. We were discussing which Naish board I should use for an upcoming down winder on the could-be-gnarly Columbia River. We discussed balance, ability, glide and surfing.  He advised me to use the Naish Glide 12′ 6″ which is forgiving and competitive (even if I am not so much). I had wanted to try the Naish Javelin (14′) like a friend has and one I have enjoyed in the flatwater. I thought that the faster the better was a good idea.  Steve explained that I would be more stable and endure fewer swims – and therefore enjoy the race more and probably be faster with the Glide. Great equipment and great advice make all the difference for an enjoyable experience no matter where you finish in an event. Either way, Naish was the hands down choice.

When out on the water, talk to others who share your interests – even if their abilities far surpass yours (for now). Try their equipment. If you have a heavy, poorly designed paddle prepare to get paddle-envy.  If your paddle is not the right length, prepare for a huge “aha” moment if you try a paddle better suited to you. If you have a few members of the family who’ll be sharing one paddle, why not get a top of the line adjustable paddle that will be exquisite fun for all? The KIALOA  Pupu paddle is a fine example.

So why am I about to add to my quiver of standup paddles? I have  one paddle I dearly love. For 5 years it has taken me over lakes, streams, oceans, bays and rivers – but like any piece of well-used sports equipment, it could break at some point. So I went shopping. Don’t ask me about square inches of blade size, blade shape, shaft length or blade design – I leave that to the experts.

Discussing things with the team at KIALOA (awesome customer service and rich online information) I learned that for my size, age and skill level I might find the KIALOA Pipes to be a great downwinder and flatwater paddle. It was fun to learn that many pros – even big strong young men – love the Pipes as well.  There is plenty to learn about getting equipment right – again, I always defer to the experts.

My current paddle, with a shorter shaft and larger blade size can still be my go to paddle for surfing. For my down winders and probably most races I may be better off with the Pipes. I tried the Pipes on the same 5 mile training run I have been doing for about 6 weeks, maybe 3 times a week.

In my last race I noticed that my heart rate was a full 20 BPM more than I wanted. I decided to do some training closer to my “fat burning” zone, topping at 136 and some segments in my  “aerobic” zone – which tops at  154 BPM.  I have been doing my 5 mile loop with my older paddle so I know my speed per mile and my average heart rate at that speed.  Yesterday when I used the Pipes my heart rate was easy to keep in the 125-140 BPM range. My fear was that the “feeling easier” paddling would result in a slower average speed per mile.

Holy cow! I use Nike+ to measure my miles and gather my splits per mile – I was 12-18 seconds faster per mile – a full minute faster for the total 5 miles while the entire workout felt easier. It was also actually easier – as demonstrated by my reduced heart rate. For a 63 year old chick just playing at being an athlete this is both fun to explore – and an incentive to get that Pipes in my quiver very soon. The only tough decision remaining is which of the beautiful graphics do  I choose – the blue or the green plumeria? Maybe blue to match my cool new Sweet Waterwear paddling top or my  Hawaiian blue Tiare Tee.