Stand Up and “Sweep” Your Way to Better Health

People all across the world are “sweeping” their way to better health and having more fun than they ever imagined. “Sweeping” is a slang term used to describe the sport that is going viral faster than any social networking media and changing the world of sports on any body of water — and just about anyone can hop aboard.

Stand up paddling, paddle surfing, or SUP is helping people of all ages and  sizes catch the surfer’s glide, and helping people in all walks of life get fit and healthy, faster and safer. People are simply getting addicted. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the rise in popularity — not just for those, like me, who are fortunate enough to live in Hawaii or California, but anywhere there’s an ocean, lake, bay, or even river rapids, you can find this world phenomenon catching on. There are SUP fitness boot camps and clinics popping up anywhere there is water. You may have noticed more races and events happening in your community too.

Below are some photos of a recent FREE women’s Sup clinic last month, and these gals were wonderful.  In the first hour, there were smiles across the ocean and a new found ticket to health.  I do these monthly to ensure the health of our community and introduce women and men to a new way to get fit! For “fun” I had the girls attempt a few push ups. They were amazing. On the right is Amy Hampton, the Director of Maui’s American Heart Association, getting her heart pumping!

Suzie Cooney's Free Women's SUP Clinic


According to Wikipedia: Stand up paddle surfing (SUP), or in the Hawaiian language Hoe he’e nalu, is an emerging global sport with a Hawaiian heritage. The sport is an ancient form of surfing, and began as a way for surfing instructors to manage their large groups of learner surfers, as standing on the board gave them a higher viewpoint, increasing visibility of what was going on around them – such as incoming swell. To begin with, this started with using a one-bladed paddle, whilst standing on a normal length surfboard. The popularity of the modern sport of SUP has its origination in the Hawaiian Islands. In the early 1960s, the Beach Boys of Waikiki would stand on their long boards, and paddle out with outrigger paddles to take pictures of the tourists learning to surf. This is where the term “Beach Boy Surfing”, another name for Stand Up Paddle Surfing, originates.


Not only can you lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol and feel more energized after a session, but the overall experience of being on the water is often touted as “aqua therapy.” The benefits of having a sport you enjoy and can do on a regular basis can alter many of the morbidity factors that decrease our health and plague our society.

I use this sport as a cross-training tool for almost all my clients who are comfortable in the water and who can swim.  It is low impact on all joints and is also being used to improve balance and core strength for people recovering from serious injuries.  I used my stand up paddle board to recover from a serious bilateral leg and ankle accident.  I have also witnessed this sport transform people’s lives overnight, by instilling a new found level of confidence and achievement, making them feel invincible!

As a sponsored team SUP rider for Naish International, instructor, and SUP clinic organizer, I love to introduce the sport to everyone who visits Maui, and help others perfect their paddling stroke  — from flat water fun to waves, and the really popular coastal long distance down winders we do here on the North Shore of Maui.

But, before you hop aboard, I’d like to offer my professional experience and expert resources about water safety, board and paddle selection, and how to maximize your fun to maximize your health so you can glide into your later years with a smile and healthy body!


First and foremost, know how to swim. Sounds simple enough, but on occasion I have come across eager students and clients who think the board is their safety. Not so. If you were ever separated from your board, you need to know how to swim to shore or to a safety vessel. So be sure you can swim, or take a class in your local community.

Also, know the waters you are attempting to enter. If you are new to a spot, wait at least 10 minutes to watch and observe where others enter and exit the water. Watch to see if there are underlying currents or other obstacles in or near the water.  If it’s windy, be sure to know if it’s on shore wind or off shore wind. This is very important. You wouldn’t want to be blown out to sea or across the other side of a lake. If there are surfers or others recreating on the same body of water, be courteous and mindful. If you are a beginner, stay away from others until you are confident of your board skills.

Be sure your SUP board has a safety leashAlways tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, and maybe always go with a buddy. Make sure you are properly hydrated and have eaten enough food so you have the energy needed to stay out on the water and enjoy. On long distance runs, I’ll often wear a waist hydration pack filled with water and electrolytes.  I may even stick a pack of endurance gel in there too.

Be sure your board has a safety leash. This leash is my coil race leash attached to my race board. Leashes can be worn around your ankle or calf. This keeps the board attached to you should you fall off.  It’s a safety hazard if you do not wear one — your board can easily slide out from underneath you and hurt others.


If you are a beginner to the sport, it’s best to get a stable board to have the best experience. I’d say start with a board that’s at least  10- 11 feet long, maybe a little longer, and 29 inches wide or a little wider.  Some boards are shorter, but boards as wide as 35 inches offer fun for everyone at any level! The learning curve with stand up paddling is amazingly quick. I’ve seen people outgrow their boards in a month’s time. (Once you’ve mastered the beginner stage, you may want to try some waves or enter a long distance race!)

There are basically three types of boards:

RECREATIONAL BOARDS are great for the entire family or if you simply want to cruise around with your friends. The board sizes range from 10 feet to 12 feet and come in different widths. Remember, the narrower the board, the less stable.  Board construction and materials range from epoxy composites, wood veneers, and carbon wood composites to what are also called soft tops.  This board is called the Mana made by Naish. It’s a ton of fun, very stable and can easily be a nice cruising board and catch some waves too.  It is 10 feet long by 32 inches wide.

Recreational Stand Up Paddle Boards
photo by Simone Reddingius

Wave Board by NaishWAVE BOARDS, like mine pictured here, are very thin, fast and can turn on a dime down the face of a wave, much like a surf board. This board is a 9’ 3” in length and 1/6th wide. This board is purely for the waves.  Some wave boards are as short as 7 feet, much like a surfboard.

RACE BOARDS are really exciting and can even come with rudders built in so you can go up wind, or hold course on a race into chop with more ease. My race board is rudderless and is 14 feet of fun! We catch “glides” on swells that sometimes seem like half the length of a football field!  Race boards are also used in flat water competition, and can be 17-18 feet in length.

Here’s a quick video snippet of what are called “ down winders” on Maui’s N.orth Shore. Simone Reddingius followed me down to grab some simple fun. Normally we have tradewinds at our back, blowing anywhere from 20-35 mph. This day was quite light. You can get your heart rate up pretty quick from the thrills of catching what are called “glides” that can connect from swell to swell.


Here’s a few photos from our recent local Maui race, the Naish Championships. It was a 9.5 mile down winder on the open ocean.  I felt proud wearing my ATHLETA tattoo and made sure my board was covered in ATHLETA stickers too! Off we went all 204 racers from six different countries! I came in a modest 5th in my class. I encountered fin and leash issues approaching the finish, but had a great day.

The Naish Championships on Maui
photos by Casey Fukuda


SUP PaddlePaddles also come in different lengths, widths and materials. There are paddles made of alloy, carbon/glass composites, carbon/wood composites and full carbon.  Some are even adjustable. As the sport continues to evolve, they are getting more and more comfortable to help reduce fatigue and increase performance.

I just love how my paddle’s shaft is much thinner in diameter and the handle is incredibly comfortable. I have a paddle for wave paddling, racing and cruising.  Different paddles are used, and vary in length. Some blades are narrower than others, but are typically 8-9 inches wide.  Sometimes as I’ve noticed that if I switch down to an 8” paddle, my shoulders will be less fatigued. This is another article in itself.

There are many theories on how to measure a paddle, but really it’s personal preference. Here’s a chart I thought you’d enjoy to learn more about stand up paddle length:

How to Measure Paddle Length


Athleta Summer Shade Tee Rashguard UPF 50ATHLETA rash guards are great, stylish sun protection!   You can have fun, look good and most importantly be protected by the sun. This cute rash guard dries quickly and is 50+ UPF.  This is the Summer Shade Tee.

I also apply sunscreen not only to my face and neck, but to my hands too!   Find a nice lip sunscreen too, and maybe a hat. I also try to wear good eye protection from the glare off the water.


Having fun on the water, with stand up paddling or any sport you enjoy, is sure to be more exciting if you don’t have to stop what you’re doing because you’re running out of steam or your thirst needs quenching.  I like to suggest that before you venture onto the water, hydrate with at least 8-16 oz of water. Remedy Pack by North FaceOn days where you might go exploring on longer distance paddles, it’s also a great idea to fill up a hydrating pack, like this great all in one  Remedy Pack by North Face, that offers storage for quick snacks and allows you put in a liquid bladder.

I always keep a few gel packs and a couple of small bags of almonds if I’m paddling for distance in my pack. On big training days, I’ll also add an electrolyte powder to help me fight cramping or extreme hydration.

As you’ve noticed with some of the great articles about SUP here on Athleta Chi, stand up paddling is all the rage for a great way to get healthy.  You may not live on a beautiful island like Maui, but if you live near a serene lake you can explore interesting waterways. Find a sport that you enjoy to add to your current fitness routine. It’s an amazing way to tone your body, feel exhilarated and meet wonderful other paddlers in your community.  STAND UP for your health and “sweep”  today!

Suzie CooneyFeel free to contact me anytime if you have any questions about how to get into the sport, or want to share with our Athleta Chi community how SUP has helped YOU be healthy. If ever on Maui and you are seeking to plan a group , corporate or private lesson for SUP, call me! And if on Maui August 24th, join us for a Full Moon Paddle in North Kihei. Click here for details »

Aloha and in good health,

Suzie Cooney, CPT » » »


August 20, 2010 at 10:19 am

Where can I buy one of these in the midwest? I was looking online but I’m afraid to invest so much money to try this. I want to try in on Lake Michigan waves!

Suzie Cooney

August 20, 2010 at 10:25 am

Aloha Toni,

I’m pretty sure if you Google stand up paddling less Lake Michigan you’ll find something. If not, send me and email direct and I’ll help you.

This sport will change your life!

In good health, Suzie Cooney!


August 20, 2010 at 10:49 am

Great article, Suzie! SUP is so much fun. I love going out, alone or with friends. Exciting and relaxing, at the same time! Thanks for all you do for women’s health and fitness. <3


August 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

Great article and cool video … Your sponsors should have you touring around the world promoting this sport (and their brands)!

Simone Reddingius

August 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

Great article Suzie! Lots of good info, especially the paddle length part. Something that is easily overlooked when starting out.

Sandi Wickersham

August 20, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Hey Suzie Cooney, I miss your smiling face. The article was great, also the YouTube, you are my hero. I am visiting my mom & family celebrating mom’s 92nd birthday. I am ready to be on board (haha, I made a joke: Be on Board) with SUP when I get back!!


August 20, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Most work outs are boring and you can’t wait till they end. Stand Up Paddle is different. It’s a lot of fun. I have been doing downwind runs three times a week and can see a positive difference in my body. It’s also a great way to meet new people.
Great article, Suzie!


August 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I am 60 years old,never surfed and Suzie taught me how to SUP. What a great sport. We are in Idaho right now and my friend has been looking at Costco for a board and I advised him to read this article and go to a pro before he invested any money at all. Thanks for being so “timely” in helping us out on this question!! l

Suzie Cooney

August 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Alooooha Linda! SO nice to hear from you. Wow, Idaho is a far cry from Maui, but lovely. Good advice. Have your friend call me ASAP Happy to help with a better quality set up in their area.
See you back on the island soon girlfriend! Suzie


August 20, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Thank you for sharing so many helpful SUP insights. I learned useful info. regarding equipment variations which I can now share with newbies getting into the sport. I do not stand up anymore due to a back injury. However, as owner/operator of Moore Watertime downwind shuttle service, my paddle clients presume I know everything about the sport and consult me for SUP tips. Thanks to your interesting and informative articles I can now answer some of the more technical inquiries with confidence. Excellent article…Mahalo, Suzie. Keep ’em comin’!


August 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Wow, didn’t know they had races in this sport. I demoed a few of these boards last weekend and totally got hooked. All I could think of at night instead of sleeping was how much fun it was and what a great work out. It just isn’t that big in the mid-west where we live yet so I ended up putting money down on a kayak but this paddle board is still haunting my thoughts 🙂 I’m sure that I will eventually end up with one of these and I think my kids would love it!
Thanks for the great article!

Bodie Shandro

August 21, 2010 at 8:19 am

Great article Suzie! Your knowledge, experience and passion for the sport of SUP continues to inspire all of us! Mahalo.


August 22, 2010 at 10:00 am

Excellent article Suzie! Very informative!


August 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm

This is a fabulous article Suzie. I think the information you relay to your reader is not only accurate, but important for beginners in the SUP community.

Suzie Cooney

August 23, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Thank you Bodie, Casey and Jill for sharing your comments n ATHLETA’s Chi. I’m glad you found it interesting and helpful.. Stand Up and get healthy!

Aloha, Suzie


August 26, 2010 at 5:53 am

Total WOW. The video clips were awesome, and I see the full range of benefits. A beautiful, rocking sport! When I get back to the ocean, I want to check it out.

Living on Lake Superior, we get some rolling waves similiar to the ocean at times. It all comes down to the wind factor. A couple weeks ago I body surfed like I was in the Atlantic. And last week there was a woman doing SUP. The word is out!


August 28, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Aloha Suzie, can you recommend a counterpart on The Big Island (preferably female)? I’m looking to SUP to fulfill a lifelong dream of learning to surf and will be visiting the BI soon. If I were visiting Maui I’d naturally call upon! Thanks for the pointers and videos.

Suzie Cooney

August 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

Aloha to you, Lucy? I will put my feelers out and see what I can come up with for you. We have another Naish team rider there, but she is currently traveling. I will contact her and find out who can get your started:)

SUP will change your life!

In good health, Suzie

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez

August 31, 2010 at 7:03 pm


Excellent. Answered my questions before I had a chance to ask them. Well organized. Flowed well. Great mixture of information and fun activities. Shows anyone can do it. Good easy read. Written with the reader in mind. Technical details presented in a welcoming fashion. No jargon. Learned lot!

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez
Maui Breakfast Club
Monday-Friday, 8-10 AM


September 01, 2010 at 7:46 am

Mahalo Suzie! I look forward to your teammate’s contact info. I’ve created a SUP workout routine in my iFitness app and am getting ready 🙂

zencudo lodge

September 01, 2010 at 11:12 am

Our lodge in the southern zone of Costa Rica (near Pavones) just started a pilates and yoga fitness retreat and SUP is offered as a one day class (part of a 5 day retreat). Didn’t realize what a wonderful core building exercise it is so it’s just a perfect compliment to pilates! Suzie, if you’re ever interested in visiting us, please contact us! Loved your article.

Kristin Whitmore

September 01, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Those of us without an ocean can SUP too! For example you can learn to paddle on the Forebay near Oroville, Ca


September 10, 2010 at 8:51 pm

If you would like to put Toni in touch with me, I just bought a board this summer and would be happy to let her try it in Lake Michigan if she is nearby!


September 16, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Excellent article. Thanks for answering questions that I didn’t even know to ask (especially about getting the right equipment and supplies). As for the benefits of SUP, the photo showing your abs and triceps says quite a lot!


March 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm



March 29, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thanks for the great article! It SUMS up SUP wonderfully. The best thing about ‘sweeping’ is that it does not discriminate based on age. Anyone of any age who is fit can do it. My partner and I bought our first boards last summer in Dewey Beach. LOVE IT! LOVE IT! ‘Sweeping’ in Maui and Key West affirmed our love for this sport. Find us SUPing in fabulous Rehoboth Beach/Dewey Beach Delaware this Summer! Athleta and Suzie …keep up the great work keeping us informed and looking our best!

Marilyn Hansen

March 29, 2011 at 6:43 am

Dear Suzie,
I loved your article on SUP. I am a surfer (and a motorcyclist as yourself!) and have been noticing this sport for the past few summers. Would I be able to use my own ‘surfboard’ to SUP or do I need a special one? Mine is 8’6″ and a decent width. I’m sure there are some differences with a SUP board.
Thanks and happy water fun!


March 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I Love surfing but still havent tried stand up but I’m itching to try it! I cant wait to do it I live in a lil beach town in Florida so I’m planning on doing it next weekend:) Love the video I hope stand up paddle boarding gets me as fit as you!



March 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for featuring this sport. I live in Michigan and began SUP last summer. I’m always on the water and this is the most fun I’ve had. It’s the best on secluded channels off of the lakes where it is so peaceful and full of wildlife. Would love to try some racing in the future. Hope we get more events in this part of the country!


April 01, 2011 at 5:52 am

I tried paddle boarding last weekend. It was much easier than I expected. I was sure I would fall in, but I wasn’t close to falling. On the Gulf Coast, Yolo has many lessons. It was so fun, I am getting a board right away. The views are phenomenal, I paddled right up to a swan. I think it would be great on a river, if someone could pick you up downstream.


April 07, 2011 at 7:57 am

I need help finding a really good spf for my lips; I’ve tried Kiehls and other brands and my lower lip still always gets burnt! I use Shiesedo faceblock 50 on my lips, but it tastes awful and leaves my lips stark white; any suggestions?

Mary Lanser

April 08, 2011 at 6:18 pm

For those of you ladies who love to SUP….please visit my blog especially for women stand up paddlers! I live on Maui and would love to have you subscribe to my blog and share your adventures with other women. If you subscribe I will send you a neat Wild Wahine Paddler bumper sticker too! Just google wildwahinepaddler and come join the fun. Maui No Ke OI!!!!!


April 17, 2011 at 7:57 am

We love to SUP on Florida Bay in The Keys before sunset… Manatees, dolphins… it’s like walking on the water!


April 23, 2011 at 6:57 am

Hello! I’ve been following your info, Suzie, for about 3 months now- thanks for the tips and motivation! I am an avid SUPer in Wisconsin and own a shop here where we rent, have lessons, and an adventure club for folks who want to paddle together! I would LOVE to paddle the Great Lakes with anyone out there! We have plenty of boards for a group to travel with, too! Clear Water Outddor is having demos for kayaking and Sup next weekend April 30/May 1 for our Earth Day celebration & our 2nd annual SUP race and festival will be this July 16, The Midwest SUP nationals! We’ve been paddling since the ice melted off the lake and can’t wait for the sun to be shinning to warm the water! Lake Geneva, Wi is close to Chicago and Milwaukee- so come and join me for some SUPing on this clean and clear lake! We are also an Olukai dealer and I love that you wear their beautiful footwear! for
More info!


May 05, 2011 at 10:36 pm

When Suzie Cooney says “SUP will change your life” in a blog thread–believe it. She was absolutely correct–SUP has changed mine in a monumental way and now we are honored to be hosting Suzie in the SF Bay Area:

Suzie and Athleta are the best and paved the path to my reconnecting with the water.

Ann Phelan

July 16, 2011 at 6:53 am

I started SUP on Bonaire thanks to my sponsor Starboard. Since I have enjoyed paddling on Cape Cod. Keep spreading the SUP love.

trina moonflower king

March 17, 2012 at 7:59 am

help! i live in a land locked state {missouri}. what would you suggest? i would love to learn and maybe even teach this!

Team Athleta

March 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Trina, you can SUP on any body of water, including lakes (it’s easier to learn on still water) and rivers! One place to try is You can search for “stand up paddle” in your city or zip code. Or just try a general internet search for “stand up paddle Missouri” and see what comes up. Hope this helps!


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