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Mr. Adventure: Becoming a Stand-up Guy (Barely) with Paddleboard Yoga

The one challenge where he didn’t want to make a splash

Gary Hovland


Ahh, January. the most optimistic of months. Anything seems possible. And to that end, we all made lists of resolutions that have the potential to turn us into the people we want to be: smarter, healthier, less reliant on Vicodin.

Yet, while we all aspire to become healthier, whether it be through diet or exercise, there’s nothing that says you can’t be adventurous in your quest. In fact, adventurous exercise is a goal we should all strive for this year. No more trips to the gym to run on treadmills or take Zumba classes—unless the gym is run by native Borneans who use blow darts as a motivational technique.

No, we need a workout with an element of danger. The problem is, aside from alligator wrestling, Florida doesn’t lend itself to adventurous exercise. We have no mountains to climb, no glaciers to scale, no rapids to run. So what does that leave us? Parking our own car at events? Taking the stairs to our penthouse? Paddle-raising at the Naples Winter Wine Festival with insufficient funds?

No? Then allow me to recommend stand-up paddleboard yoga. It takes the best parts of stand-up paddleboarding (which is the standing up on the paddleboard part) and combines it with the best parts of yoga (which is the part where you bend and twist … you know, yoga).

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And although yoga has been around for thousands of years, nobody really thought about adding a water feature until recently. And, as Robert Frost alluded to in The Road Not Taken, that has made all the difference.

Oddly enough, the word “yoga” means to join or “yoke together,” as it brings the mind and body into one harmonious experience. So the term already seems to accept the concept of blending two disciplines together. And what is more granola than blending land and sea? It’s like bringing together chocolate and peanut butter, except less delicious. Basically, it’s the best thing we’ve got until someone combines deep sea fishing and lawn darts.

Even so, adding the specter of drowning or being eaten by sharks qualifies SUP yoga as adventurous. Up until now, the only update yoga had added was heat—which might just be the saddest innovation to anything, ever. (Soup notwithstanding.)

I called Southwest Florida Standup and scheduled an outing. They assured me that the class was a no-judgment zone, so if I fell off and flailed like a kitten in a bucket of water, no one would laugh or point or hold my head underwater until starfish ate me. The class takes place off of Lovers Key near New Pass Bridge, and when I got there (fashionably late, as always), students were already paddling to their hearts’ content just off shore. They ranged in age from 30 to 60 years old and were on their knees, silently dipping their paddle into the tea-colored abyss. It all seemed so peaceful. But within minutes, a few experienced souls were standing, just the way it shows in the brochures. Soon I’d be able to downward dog in the face of an unsuspecting manatee, all the while realizing I haven’t stretched since the Reagan administration.

Instructor Marcie Gillis, a lovely young woman who may or may not have followed the Dave Matthews Band for a few years, had my board already in the water, and I was happy to see it came equipped with a life vest strapped to the back. At the very least, my body would be floating if something unfortunate happened, and the authorities could spot me right off.

Shockingly, I had never been on a stand-up paddleboard in my life (something I should have perhaps told someone prior to arrival). It turns out they’re bigger than surfboards, less convenient than kayaks (seats are always welcome) and exceedingly stable. Gillis says she has had 80-year-old newbies out here and they loved it. But so many of them are on medication I didn’t see how that was a litmus test worth considering.

Truth be told, I was kneeling and paddling like a pro right from the start. And if that was all that would have been required of me, I can honestly say I might quit my day job and teach it full time. The air, the sea, the sun—what wasn’t to love? But as I paddled and followed my six other classmates, it occurred to me that at some point in the very near future, I would be expected to stand.

We dropped anchor, literally, in a calm stretch of water after a few minutes of zigzagging toward the Gulf of Mexico. The boards have little anchors attached to them and the students formed a line across the mangrove-edged waterway—an armada of Charkra warriors.

Gillis floated in front of us and began with a pose right in my wheelhouse—the shavasana—better known as corpse or resting pose. We literally laid on our backs for about four minutes, breathing in and out as water lapped against the boards. On more than one occasion there was a very large splash near my head, which was beyond disconcerting. I regularly popped open one eye just to confirm I wasn’t floating out to sea while the rest of the class breathed rhythmically. It would be a hell of a way to go.

But just as I feared, I was still securely tethered and we began actual yoga. I glanced to my left and watched as newlyweds Teresa and Terry (in matching rash guards) popped up into mountain pose (standing). Further down the line, I got my first good look at the rest of the class—all women. Oddly enough, it seems that women with tattoos love SUP yoga. Jill and Joyce—at the other side of the lagoon—both sported fairly aggressive ink that may or may not have included tigers crawling up their sides. They were pretty far away, so it could have been bunnies eating clover.

Nevertheless, it was time for me to go from all fours to standing and the very real possibility that I would need that life vest. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. These boards really are stable. As long as you keep your feet evenly spaced from side to side, your weight distribution keeps everything upright. The problem is that yoga doesn’t really stop at standing upright. Changing your feet from side to side to front to back—as though you were surfing—is shockingly unnerving. From warrior one to warrior two, to eagle and sun salutations, being upright never seemed so difficult. For the better part of 60 minutes, I was a shaking mess, trying my best not to fall out of whatever pretzel-related pose I was being asked to attempt, while the occasional kayaker silently drifted past with a look of utter confusion, unaware he was witnessing the latest in adventure exercise.

I have to admit it makes land-based yoga seem ridiculously easy by comparison. Of course, if Bala Vinyasa adds Borean dart blowers, all bets are off.


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