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The Making of a Paddle Board Champion: Hunter Pflueger

How to survive six straight years of non-stop training, travel and competition on the highest level in multiple sports while pulling a 3.7 point average at Punahou School.

I first met Hunter when he was in the seventh grade. He was extremely competitive. He was living and working from the win–at costs handbook. Even winning produced frustration. To use a race car metaphor. He was stuck in second gear.

Participating in swimming, water–polo and paddling canoe. Sometimes in the same day.

Reflection: The good news he is extremely bright and a really good guy. He responded in time to a better “outcome vs. process” approach.

Hunter Pflueger, photo by Alan Pflueger


Hunter’s process became more about learning to be present, use deliberate breathing, choosing the right thoughts and focusing on the right emotions. Not an easy transition. But he was open to change. Around this time he decided to narrow his focus to paddle boarding and paddling canoe.

Reflection: Hunter’s grandfather Jimmy is a legendary paddler, having been on the Duke’s select team! Jimmy later became an outstanding coach. His methods were extremely progressive, producing a team of “Young Lions:” Mark and Todd Sandvold, Mike Field, Mark Norfleet, Paul Freese, Matt Kresser, Greg Sheehan, Howie Klemmer and his son and Hunters dad, Alan Pflueger, among others that became the standard of elite paddling.


In terms of paddle board racing Hunter began to travel extensively to compete against and train with the elite coaches and paddlers in Australia. To compete in the World Championships in Mexico, North Carolina, and Florida and beyond. Often times these trips were scheduled immediately after a race. His Mom would pick him up at the race and drop him off at the airport.

Reflection: These trips often involved long flights with the normal challenges of air–travel. Arriving completely off schedule. Being exposed to old school coaches that believed in the value of impossible workouts. New and challenging conditions including cold water, radical wind and surf, third world sickness and excruciating heat. Racing against the best and experiencing frustrating results. And then to return to a massive amount of school work due tomorrow. When I would ask Hunter about how it went, he would always comment, “Good, the rewards far outweigh the negatives”.


Hunter sources one painful loss on the North Shore of Oahu to being a turning point. He finished second to a close friend with an effort that far below his best. He vowed to never get out-worked again. His competitive nature surfaced and he decided to increase his already arduous schedule. Soon after, his dedication began to pay off and he became “somebody!” He began to finish at the top in all of the important races. Most recently he and his partner Matt Delahunty teamed up to edge out former World Champions Brad Gaul and Kendrick Loius at the finish line in this year’s Molokai 2 Oahu (M2O).

Reflection: In doing his part to win this race, Hunter demonstrated all the important qualities of a successful ocean racer. He trusted his ability, he accepted the challenge and he battled the competition. In the end, he gave his best effort and came out on top!

Hunter with Coach Brad


After Winning the World Championship in Team Stock, Hunter rested for four days. Then he traveled to Maui to paddle in the 2017 HCRA State Championship. He was part of the winning crew in the Boys 18 & Under and finished third in the Senior Men. One week later and he is training for a paddle board race that is part of the Duke’s OceanFest. And the it’s on to college at University of San Diego where he plans to find the time to train and compete on a regular basis. His real goal is to win the M2O Unlimited Paddle Board next summer.

Survival: So how did Hunter survive the past six years with a smile on his face and wanting more? Simple, he learned to breathe, make reasoned choices, work his process and debrief. And when necessary, reframe the negative.

Breathing: Hunter continues to refine a daily routine of Essential Breathing for overall health. Performance Breathing to settle down, be aware, prepare and execute with power and accuracy. Power Breathing to get more oxygen in the blood stream, reduce carbon dioxide, to clear his mind under pressure and help with recovery.

Reasoned Choices: Hunter has a plan for getting better. His mindset is fueled by gratitude that allows him to be clear of the reasons related to the “why” for what he wants to do. This “why” becomes a source of power to move forward.

Process: Hunter uses his breathing to be present and operate in the moment, to be mindful of choosing the right thoughts and focus on generating the right emotions and feeling the sensations associated with proper actions. In line with this process, he uses a sequence of visual reminders that speak loud and clear to him about what he needs to do to give his best effort.

Debrief: Hunter captures the positive feelings, releases the negative feelings and writes down the decisions for improving his performance on a regular basis. This discipline allows him maintain the plan he wants and needs to keep it real.

Reframe: Hunter is able to find the positive aspects of negative results, resolve issues and make very difficult decisions that keep him stoked on what he loves to do.

Hunter has the mental fitness to excel and win. He is HiLevel in all regards. Two of his coaches, Travis Grant and Mike Cote, speak to his integrity and strength of character.

Travis Grant, Champion 2017 Molokai 2 Oahu Stand Up Paddle

“Hunter is an incredible young man. I love to train with him. He respects the work, the sport and the ocean. He knows what he wants and he knows how to win. But most of all, I’m impressed with him as a person. One day on Molokai before a channel crossing we were driving to the store. As we were pulling out of the parking stall he asked me to stop. Then he jumped out and helped a older lady who was struggling to put her groceries into the car. It took less then one minute and the lady was so thankful. I was so amazed. It made me think. It was such a simple gesture yet it meant so much to this lady, and myself, that day. Great job Mate. Keep up the awesome work!”

Mike Cote, Paddle Racer Enthusiast and Coach

Hunter is a kind and respectful guy. His heart is in the right place and he paddles for the right reasons. In the water he is a beast! He is on the right track to win M2O!