Native Intelligence: Maui

Virtual SUP

Story by Kyle Ellison. Photos by Erik Aeder.

It’s 1 p.m. on a drizzly Wednesday in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and financial adviser Brad Pease is in his office dressed in gym clothes, balancing on top of a Bosu ball and paddling the air with a broom. His legs are wobbling, and he’s winded and sweaty when Suzie Cooney’s voice chimes in from his computer to offer some hard-earned encouragement. “That was your best one yet, Brad—wait until you step on a board this season and see how good you feel.”

Cooney is nowhere near Oregon; she’s 2,500 miles away on Maui’s north shore, working with Pease via Skype from a studio that’s stocked with paddleboards. The author of How to Increase Your Stand Up Paddling Performance (a.k.a. the “SUP bible”), Cooney is a champion paddler and one of the world’s top trainers for stand up paddling fitness. She’s also one of the few who teach it remotely (Pease originally found her on YouTube). Cooney “travels” the globe to train paddlers from Australia to Brazil who are looking to improve their balance, strength and fitness. She isn’t able to pat them on the back (though they do high-five on the screen), but Cooney eventually gets to meet most of her clients when they travel to Maui to reap the rewards of all their hard work.

The ultimate goal for most of her clients is to complete the Maliko Run, a fast-paced, nine-mile downwind paddle along the north shore of Maui. The first test is a skills assessment in calm, protected water; Cooney needs to feel comfortable with her clients’ fitness level and confident that they’ve put in the work before setting them free in Hawai‘i’s challenging waters. Pease, who is pushing 60 years old and “hates going to smelly gyms to watch other people in the mirror,” got the chance to paddle with Cooney on a trip to Maui last spring. While he didn’t paddle the Maliko Run, he did catch some waves off Ukumehame. He feels like “a totally different person after a year of training with Suzie,” he says.

Now that Pease is back in Oregon, sweating it out on his lunch break, he’s optimistic that all of the virtual sessions are going to pay off. “I’ve gotta believe that by fall she’s going to say that I’ve got the green light.”