The 3 C’s for Conquering Downwind Stand Up Paddleboarding


We are in the heat of the summer here on Maui and the Maliko Run has been all-time epic.  A few of you are perhaps coming off the infamous Molokia 2 Oahu last weekend where records were broken. Congrats to all of you.  Or some of you have bravely conquered the recent other prestigious channel crossing, M2M or our  Maui 2 Molokai.  Time to get pumped for the SIC Gorge Games Paddle Challenge coming up in August in Hood River, OR. Can’t wait.

A couple years ago, Dave Kalama and I gave a local talk story here on Maui to a group of downwind enthusiasts from all over the world, at a local board shop Adventure Sports Maui that was titled the Art of Mastering Maliko. I’ve had my notes staring at me since and I’d thought I prepare this article with some of my jewels in hope that they might help you up your downwind game. Because why on earth would anyone bother with flat water again? It’s a Maui joke. Please don’t take offense.

Reading this article will help arm yourself with key downwind weapons and discover some of the real secrets of the art of downwind paddling allowing you to:

  1. Catch more waves and glides
  2. How to train properly for downwind winning success
  3. Conserve energy
  4. Excel in further distance with each glide, paddle stroke equaling the connection of more bumps
  5. Understand the mental part of managing big water and big winds

Suzie with Tony Gallang photo by Jeremy Riggs

I wanted to give the audience something simple with a catchy metaphor, a specific mental tool and a new way to approach your training. If you follow these 3 easy things to remember you’re going to crush it and really step up your downwind game

CONFIDENCE:  #themindwinsfirst

I could write and entire book on this topic. The definition of Confidence is the state, belief and feeling that you can accomplish something.  You believe in your ability. You trust in your ability.

Now keep in mind there is a difference between arrogant and overly confident.

Confidence and being positive go hand in hand. While arrogance and being overly confident can bring harm to yourself or to others. You may have heard of that saying, “do something that scares you builds your confidence.”   Just be smart egos are left on the beach.

downwind paddleboarding

Maliko Bay, Maui Hawaii

Downwind paddling comes with a new level of chaos, some say “scary” especially on Maliko. For those on the mainland Hood River, the Gorge can pack a punch too!   Whether you’ve paddled Maliko or the Gorge for the first time or twentieth time, some of those big wind gusts on your back can feel like someone is literally pushing you with a big heavy whack or a slap on the back. It can catch you off guard if you’re not used to it and really rattle your cage.

For example, you could experience the ultimate garage sale wipe-out as you fly through the air and land with a face full of water. Your hat is gone or smooshed over your eyes, sunglasses are sideways, and your board is spinning for the third time as you try and figure out where you are. That can really rattle anybody.  Building one’s confidence for the Maliko Run or anywhere big with heavy swells, wind and real breaking waves takes time on the water. We’ve all been and everyone has to pay their dues.

NOTE I also have an chapter in my book dedicated to downwind paddling,How To Increase Your Stand Up Paddling Performance, Beginner to Elite





Here are some tips to build your downwind confidence for your ultimate success:



  • Breathe and relax and say to yourself OUTLOUD what I tell clients when I coaching them on Maliko, “it’s just water, it’s just water”
  • Get a killer new downwind board that will really move you and allow you to perform at your best. Gear does matter and requires the right shape. HInt: Ding King Maui SIC
  • SAFETY: If you’re safe then you can have more fun and confidence. Be prepared for anything and everything that can happen to you, your board or maybe your buddy. Carry a communication device. Check your gear two and three times from the double strings for your leash, to perhaps if you’re here on Maui with sharks some of us carry a tourniquet.
  • Take a downwind coaching lesson from a local downwind expert. This is important so you can learn the ins and out of the run, improve your stroke,footwork; all big confidence boosters. I may know of someone.
  • Learn as much as you can about the conditions, currents, waves and wind direction wherever you decide to put in. Become the local expert on the weather to better optimize your sessions. Be picky and don’t go if it’s “iffy” or dangerous.
  • Hire me and I can surely give you a downwind paddling confidence booster. An hour with me on the phone or on SKYPE where I can lend you all of jewels specifically for you and your ability.

Your confidence is already growing because you took the time to read this. In the closing of this section, common sense is also a wonderful tool that some people just can’t buy or have, it’s learned and sometimes earned the hard way.  If anyone ever gives you pressure to go out and you’re not ready or feeling it, don’t go. Better to be humble and know your limits.


Next, downwind paddling is basically surfing on a 14 – 18ft long board, requiring an entirely different skills-set.  It’s a blend of many types of paddling coming together at once, then changing again. It’s never boring and it’s never the same.

As your board catches speed, all of your senses become alive.  Cats can smell the wind, feel it change direction.  If you think like a cat, light on your feet, feel wind changes on your body, your face, are quick, agile, aware of every moving ripple and bump on the water, nothing misses your field of vision and you move swiftly, quietly and with precision.  Think cheetah, jaguar, panther and you are ready to pounce on that bump so it will NOT get away from you.  You are the big cat bump hunter. 

downwind paddleboarding

Jeremy Riggs one of Maliko’s greats sporting the Maliko Run® super soft Bump Hunter tee

( see my cool SUP downwind Bump Hunter tees and tanks on Maliko 




But how do you become cat-like?  Here’s how:


  • If you’re a heavy horse walker you’re not doomed, but practice at home by picking up your feet and walking quietly. For God’s sake don’t shuffle along like a clod. (my personal pet peeve can you tell?) Thunder hooves. No!!!
  • Channel your cat and get that “reflex connection”. You would not want to claw up that gorgeous board or pad so quietly move those paws and improve your balance skills. I know just the coach to help you!
  • Progress to really difficult, downwind specific balance training exercises. My book is full of them as is my website. By building the “finer” muscles of your legs, this wires your brain to allow you to move fast, quick without thinking.
  • Take up SUP surfing. It’s the next best thing to getting your downwind game on. Everything you do paddle surfing is just about as good as a cross-over skill to downwind paddling. It’s really downwind surfing
  • Loosen up, relax, look around. Unglue those feet and get really comfortable on the entire board, front to back and all the way to fin.
  • I turn many flat-water paddlers into downwind sensations overnight, but for that you need to contact me for some amazing drills that I offer in my private coaching.

My closing tip in this section on how to be cat-like for downwind paddling is to always keep that blade moving in the water and DO NOT over paddle. That’s an entirely new article alone.  Usually if that paddle is moving that means your feet are moving.

Saving the best for last of course and that is the final “C”.  It’s the most dreaded for some reason but the most important and that is: CARDIO.


Don’t gasp, whine or complain, it’s the plain truth. If you think you can simply come out and tootle along and surf, you can stay home.

Paddling Maliko, and really any downwind run for that matter is a TOTAL body event but with the surfing element.  It’s the IRONMAN of any and all SUP paddling disciplines because it’s ON, surf, on. Catching and connecting as many bumps and glides and possible is the name of the game, so you gotta have your heart game ON.

Keep in mind though that the other side of the coin is conserving energy and that comes with practice.  Many flat water specialists that come to Maui and give Maliko a go, the first thing I observe is that their cadence is so ridiculously high and most of that appears to coming from the mix of excitement, adrenaline, maybe a little fear and that’s all they know is to hammer, not let off the gas at all. It’s quite impressive. Luckily as intense as downwind paddling can be, when you’re surfing and catching bumps is the best time to look up and around and take a breath for the next section.

Downwind paddling requires interval and endurance types of cardio efforts. As the water and wind begin to move you, it’s time to identify and hone in on a bump in the trough ahead that you want. (remember nothing you need is behind you).  You can burn a lot of energy when you’re learning to read the water and beginners tend to paddle for everything and anything that rises.  With practice you will learn  how to determine if you can get it or to let it go. That’s how you conserve energy.

In the mean-time you can try and get some of the smaller ones too that will actually often carry you further. This is a critical concept that will help you glide further and pass people!

Here’s an example of how important cardio training is. Coming out of Maliko Bay is an event in itself. You have a few strokes to get to the wind line near the rocks and waves to your right, and then it’s go time, cardio game ON. Forget about your hat, the tickle on your neck from your sunglasses strap, trying to stay upwind of the rocks below, it’s a matter of a constant cardio effort for about 10-15 minutes to get the point when it’s time to turn downwind.

Even if you’re learning and you’re on your knees (no shame in that) heading upwind and out, it’s full cardio on and many are very surprised just how hard it is.  Your adrenaline kicks in, fear can overcome some, the mouth can get dry and just as you make that glorious turn down the Maliko run, the hunt begins, and your heart game turns on, really high.

You’ve made it out now it’s time to use your cardio interval training for a sprint style explosive strokes to paddle, surf, paddle a few more, hard deep strokes, surf. You repeat this for 10 miles. Can you?

Here’s how to improve your Cardio for downwind success:

  • Incorporate interval sprint training with your distance and endurance training.
  • Get to know your heart rate and your level of effort with and without your Garmin or other device. It’s good to know the numbers but it’s better to know how your body is feeling because conditions change every moment and you must not get too comfortable in one zone.
  • By learning your personal value of “level of exertion” (see above), you’ll then learn how to conserve your output as you go downwind or as you’re racing or doing a channel crossing. Instead of a “zone” you can learn your level of effort number (see Chapter 6 in my book) so you can save some of your output if the wind shifts or becomes lighter, or if the current is a bear.
  • One of the fun ways to improve your cardio for downwind paddling is to implement cardio circuit training with lots of variables and things you can do to switch it up and keep your heart rate UP and changing. Make it as FUN as possible. Chapter 6 can give you great examples on this type of training.

Closing this final section, you may have heard of the saying, “get comfortable being uncomfortable” and this is very true when it comes to cardio. The sooner you can REALLY push your cardio limits the more fun you’ll have on your next downwind run.

Downwind paddleboarding is so fun and offers a mix of everything.  Remember these three C’s or please share this article with a friend or two.

If you haven’t already check out my other website, where you’ll find downwind clothing gear and styles for everyone. Wear your downwind stoke and passion.


Should you wish to learn more about the art of downwind paddling, how to train and how to up your game, it’s my specialty.  I can remotely train you via SKYPE. It’s fun, easy and very effective. I will also be offering some Maliko coaching in mid September. Contact me through my website.


The Most Important Training Component to Win Your Next SUP Race

For SO much more, follow me on Instagram: Suzie Cooney Instagram @suzie_cooney


Also if you’re on Maui and you want to rent some killer open ocean, custom downwind paddleboards be sure to contact my friends at Ding King, the home of the Custom Maui SIC boards.


Keep us posted on your downwind paddling success. Leave a comment.

Mahalo and be safe out there,

Suzie Cooney


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Suzie Cooney The Mind Wins First

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