Best Local SUP Instructors: Suzie Cooney
Sometimes the most frustrating incidents give us the best perspective. Maui resident Suzie Cooney, a sponsored standup paddler, previously-sponsored windsurfer, certified personal trainer, sports model, dirtbike racer and surfer, broke her leg in two places and tore ligaments in the other when she, believe it or not, missed the bottom stair in her house. She was confined to a wheelchair for two months.
Earlier in her fitness career, Cooney “helped people get stronger before and after surgeries.” As part of the recovery from her own injury she hopped on a standup board.
“I thought it was a great platform for reconditioning and rehabilitating,” she says.
She was right. The transformation she saw in her body was amazing, she says, and the sport has since taken over her life.
When Cooney isn’t putting on free SUP clinics, organizing events, giving beginners their first taste of the SUP life or training professional athletes, she’s on the water surfing or downwinding.
Cooney estimates she’s taught SUP to more than 500 people in groups and around 130 individuals. Her students’ skill levels vary: from beginners all the way up to advanced paddlers looking for their first taste of the open-ocean.
“To see a student have a major breakthrough is a huge reward,” she says. “It’s a thrill to see someone have so much fun conquering so much within.”
One such student, Sasha Kinloch, moved to Maui with dreams of paddling alongside standup’s elite athletes. She did just that, entering the 2013 OluKai Ho’olaule’a race on the world-class Maliko downwind run with less than a year of paddling experience. It was brutal.
“The conditions were horrific in comparison to other (years),” Kinloch says. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to paddle back out there without someone who could provide me with specific skills and confidence.”
Cooney broke down Kinloch’s performance, analyzed and corrected her stroke and gave her the encouragement and guidance she needed to paddle Maliko again.
“I’m not sure I would have ever gone back to that course without her help,” Kinloch says. Paddling two miles out with her, looking back on the shore, was a highlight of my life here on Maui. Every paddler at every level can benefit from time with Suzie.”
But it’s not all advanced paddle lessons for Cooney. She also teaches free weekend clinics on Maui for women that include core work, stretching and strength training. And Cooney doesn’t just teach women. She mentors men as well—even experienced paddlers. Once, that included paddling the entire Maliko Run on her butt with a male student who couldn’t stand up due to nerves.
“He was very embarrassed and I gently reassured him that it was okay,” she says. “My butt was sore for days but we had a blast all the way to the harbor.”
Cooney says that being a woman can help when teaching men.
“I think there’s less pressure for the guys to perform perfectly. No macho-ness required,” she says. “I think women are pretty in-tune to read people to help determine how someone might be feeling, whether scared or nervous.”
Whatever it is, it’s working. Cooney will continue to teach SUP and spread the paddle word on Maui.
“I really love what I do and am grateful to be able to work my passion,” she says. —WT
This article originally ran in our 2014 Beginner’s Guide as “Local Knowledge.”
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