‘SUP(WARD) DOG

Our correspondent goes inside the booming craze of standup paddle yoga

Standup paddleboard yoga. Really? The image of headstands and downward dogs on a standup board in the middle of the ocean has me giggling, not embracing my inner chi.

Marrying multiple sports seems to be a huge trend right now. From Hip-hop yoga, CrossFit and bootcamp-style classes to triathlon and adventure endurance races, mashed-disciple fitness outlets seem to have grown rapidly in the last few years. And now, standup paddle yoga?

"SUP Yoga is going to blow up," says Izzy Tihanyi, who's running a three-day overnight SUP yoga retreat and spa in La Jolla, Calif., this October. Her workshop, through Southern California's Surf Diva, is filling up fast, and she says requests for the sport have been remarkable.

"It sounds completely ridiculous when you think about it, but yoga is all about going with the flow and so is standup paddling," Tihanyi adds. "People have tried to do yoga on surfboards, but you tend to sink and it's really tough to balance. Standups are really stable. And what better way then to conduct a classroom with dolphins, sea turtles, and the chance to surf a wave in when you're done with your series?"

Starting this October, Surf Diva is offering monthly yoga retreats and weekly SUP Yoga through their What'Sup Surf School. The Laguna Beach, Calif.-based Stand Up Paddle Company also has daily yoga and SUP bootcamp classes.

While it may seem this is just a West Coast craze, the East Coast has already picked up the trend. Janis Markopoulos, who owns DelMarVa Board Sport Adventures, which has two locations at the Beach House in Lewes, Del., and in Frontier Town in Berlin, Md., says it's hosting five to six classes a week. Check out a slideshow of Markopoulos’s photos from DelMarVa’s SUP Yoga with Dimitra.

photo Janis Markopoulos

photo Janis Markopoulos

"We've processed about 50 people already this summer just for yoga," says Markopoulos, who added that she has a lot of men signing up lately in addition to the predominately female crowd.

At DelMarVa Adventures, yoga classes are held in flat water. It starts with a warm-up paddle across the lake to a secluded bay where the water is calm and boats are not whizzing past.

"Being on the water adds so much to the workout," Markopoulos says. "Besides having to work harder to balance, you have fresh air blowing through your hair and turtles and birds checking you out."

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I had to find out about this peculiar paddle practice first-hand. It turns out the closest Southern California SUP Yoga class is a 7 a.m. "SUP Yoga Bootcamp" through Laguna's Stand Up Paddle Company. My mind churns with questions before we even get to the first sun salutation. What do I do with my paddle? What if a set comes during the practice? Do I wear yoga shorts or just a bikini? Will I even get wet? We are doing this is the ocean, right? When I arrive, instructor Lyn Dienhart laughs at my childlike curiosity. Jacked like a bodybuilder herself, I forget the "bootcamp" label that was attached to the yoga part, which explains her chiseled abs.

Class starts by carrying an 11-foot-6-inch Laird Surftech board down a flight of stairs to the sand before the Pacific Ocean. I'm instantly tired. Next, we follow Dienhart as she sprints across the soft sand, down the beach to warm up. We then run a set of stairs, then another set, then jump over benches. By this point I'm pretty ready for shavasana—yoga slang for "resting pose," or as I usually interpret it, "naptime."

We eventually end up back to our boards where we conduct a series of sun salutations which involve downward dogs, cobra poses, warrior lunges and a flowing series of stretches that work every sore body part from hamstrings and calves to shoulders and abs.

With grippy deck pads, I realize standup boards shoved into the sand make perfect yoga mats.

Not being in the water, however, it feels like we were cheating this SUP-yoga concept. Yoga is known to teach patience; a virtue I evidently still need to work on.

Soon after, we take our boards to the shore, wipe the sand from our hands and paddle a few hundred yards to a bed of kelp past the outside waves.

"In the harbor, these poses are so easy," says Dienhart, who quickly puts her paddle across the front of her board and goes into a headstand pose while the ocean swell rocks underneath her. She makes it look so easy.

My first attempt at headstand on SUP board: a somersault that nearly catapults my waterproof camera to the bottom of the sea.

"Put your head where the handle is on the board and grab the rails," she instructs. It works, at least for a few seconds.

We practice a few more yoga tricks and then head into painfully long plank holds (like holding a pushup in the upright position) for over a minute. On the water, balancing in plank is like trying to do squats on a balance board.

We then do pushups and squats—the "bootcamp" part of the class—which are also only made harder by the water moving below.

Finally we get to the yoga portion of the class—a series of stretches, more warriors and many downward dogs. While sprawled out on the board in the middle of the sea, hands in front, bootay in the air, I quickly realize that SUP yoga rocks—literally.

While stretching in the "down dog," pose, I look above me, below me and to the sides. All I see is blue-green, a few orange Garibaldi fish and kelp beds swaying below.

In a normal yoga class, there is usually a pair of spandex shorts from a neighbor directly in front of my nose. The stench of incense mixed with sweat usually lurks in the air, and the sound can be anything from hippie jams to the occasional bodily sounds made by twisting intestinal tracts into abnormal positions.

On the water, it's completely different. Only the sounds of birds and waves. No perfect mat lineup formation. In fact, it's okay if you drift away on your yoga mat/SUP board during a floating yoga class. As long as the instructor's voice is in range, it doesn't matter where you drift. With the sweet smell of ocean, a view of the Laguna coast, and the rocking motion of the water, my body feels more in rhythm with my breath and the elements around me than when standing on a mat over a wooden floor.

So yeah, SUP-yoga is actually pretty fun, and a great workout. And with sea critters rather than sweaty, spandex-clad classmates checking you out, it makes for a very serene environment indeed.

Ommmm.

— Shelby Stanger