Professional Ocean Paddler Kenny Kaneko Shares His Best Tips to Be a Successful SUP Racer

SUP Kenny Kaneko

My name is Kenny Kaneko. I was born in Japan but my family moved to Southern California when I was seven and spent 10 years there. I came back to Japan to play professional soccer when I was 17 but had to quit due to injury.

I picked up paddling outrigger canoe from my dad and got hooked on the sport of paddling and found Stand Up Paddling (SUP). Currently, I am a professional SUP racer competing in races in Japan and around the world.

SUP Kenny Kaneko

How and why did you get into stand up paddling?

In 2013, I started paddling SUP because I saw a lot of great outrigger paddlers like Danny Ching and Travis Grant crossing over to it and finding success. I went to my first race without any experience and remember being super sore the next day! I spent the first year paddling SUP as a tool to cross train for my outrigger paddling but got hooked in competing in races my second year.

How do you train and become better?

Because there are so many SUP races throughout the year, it is really difficult to make a periodization plan for training for the SUP. So I set up my training into preseason (December to March) where I work on a lot of base and strength training. Once racing season kicks off in April, I try to cater my training program to the different disciplines (sprint, surf race, downwind, long distance) and spend around five weeks to get prepared. Since last season, I have been writing my own training programs. I find it useful in a way that I can listen to my body and really focus on what I need to improve on but at the same it is difficult to stay on track and push myself when my mind is telling me to stop.

SUP Kenny Kaneko

What do you consider the hardest parts of stand up paddling?

The hardest thing about SUP paddling is the balancing on the board and surf racing. Cardio and just plain paddling comes natural for me but when it comes down to surf racing and race tactics (buoy turns, draft trains, when to attack), I find these things are what I need to improve on to accomplish my goals. At the same time, the challenge of improvement keeps training fresh and fun every day.

How do you prepare for events/races?

I incorporate running and strength training in preparation for races since a strong core and legs are keys to success in SUP racing. When I am traveling for races, I try to arrive a few days out from the event to acclimatize to the venue. I also find it important to make sure you get a solid block of training leading up to an event. Good company always helps you stay relaxed before races too.

SUP Kenny Kaneko

How do you eat and sleep?

I think sleep and rest is key to a good performance by any athlete. I try to sleep at least eight hours through the night and when I have time, a 30 minute to an hour nap in between my morning and afternoon sessions. Eating right in Japan is very easy for me since the food is healthy in general. When I am training, I try to keep myself hydrated with Shotz Nutritions Electrolyte tablet and gels as well as an all plant based protein by Solaina after my workouts.

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

I learned from getting injured in my soccer career that you need to know when you can push thru pain and when you need to really rest. As an athlete, this is the hardest thing. Most of the times, these things are hard to judge yourself so I rely on my physio and trainer to help me judge what I can push thru and when I should rest.

What is your best advice people new to stand up paddling?

I think the most important thing is to have fun but be safe and smart. Stand up paddling is such a fun sport but it can go wrong very quick if you don’t have common sense. If you are not a good swimmer, wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) and don’t go far off shore. Always know what the weather is doing and watch out for those off shore wind days and current. And always wear a leash.

SUP Kenny Kaneko
Photo credit: BLADES

Best advice for people who have been paddling for years?

If you are trying to improve your speed or technique, I would try and get advice from experienced paddlers and coaches. There are a lot of good paddlers holding paddle clinics and it would help to attend. The key thing is to always have an open mind to your approach to the sport.

How do you balance normal life with your sport?

I try to balance life with my wife, coaching my canoe club in Japan and activities as an athlete.
As a professional athlete, its important to do many things other than competing and training. I try to have paddle clinics and paddle sessions with kids whenever I travel for races in Japan and always help others out with their paddling.

We have a baby who just came into our lives last August so this should make life that much more exciting!

SUP Kenny Kaneko

What kind of board and gear do you use?

I signed with JP Australia at the beginning of 2017 and am loving the boards. I have a variety of boards between 12’6, 14 and surf SUPs but my favorite model is the JP 2017 Allwater since it is versatile in any condition. I am sponsored by Trump Wetsuits and Patagonia Japan so in the cold months, I wear SUP specific wetsuits by Trump and in the warm months boardshorts and paddle shirts by Patagonia.

What kind of bags do you carry when you travel?

I brought my Patagonia Blackhole Bag series to Denmark with me. Patagonia Black Hole backpack and suitcase.

SUP Kenny Kaneko

What will the future bring?

My goal is to succeed in races around the world and represent Japan well. Next race is the ISA SUP World Championships in Denmark in September, and hopefully I have a great result there. I am also excited about sharing and spreading the joy of paddle sports to people around Japan and Asia. I think the lifestyle on the water is second to none and the more people that get to experience it the better!

Follow Kenny Kaneko on his website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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