Walk up to Shelter Island’s Crescent Beach on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll see a group of people seemingly standing on the water, their bodies stretched and bent in yoga poses.
For more and more North Forkers looking for a workout, paddleboard yoga has become the latest passion.
“You get this Zen-like feeling,” said Matt Stromberg, manager of Venture Out on North Ferry Road, which offers paddleboard yoga classes. “It’s amazing.”
Paddleboard yoga spread from its California roots to Long Island several years ago, but has really taken off this summer. Yoga instructors on the North Fork are trying their hands at teaching poses on paddleboards, and they say locals love it.
“It has just taken off … it’s everywhere,” said Paula DiDonato, co-owner of the Giving Room yoga studio in Southold. “You see them on top of cars; everyone’s got a paddleboard.”
Practitioners paddle out onto lakes, streams, Peconic Bay and other waterways using 12-foot boards made of epoxy or fiberglass.
Paddleboarders stand or kneel on the boards and use oars or their arms to propel themselves across the water.
Yogis stand, sit, kneel, or stretch, balancing on the 2-inch-thick boards atop the water while they assume various yoga poses, most from a more relaxed style such as Vinyasa yoga.
“It’s very beginner, but at the same time it’s good for advanced people because you’re kind of going back to your roots about how you first learned yoga, but on a paddleboard,” Stromberg said. “When you think you’re good at something, to do it on a paddleboard is that much harder.”
A paddleboard is about the same shape as a yoga mat, he said. But because the paddleboard isn’t as stable as a mat placed on the floor, it’s more of a workout to hold poses and not fall in the drink.
April Yakaboski, owner of Aerial Fitness Hot Yoga Studio in Riverhead, said doing yoga on a paddleboard requires total body balance.
“You have to use 85 percent of the muscles of your body when you’re working out [on a paddleboard], instead of just working one muscle group like at the gym,” Yakaboski said. “To do lunges on a board is a whole other world.”
Yogis on paddleboards also have to work their core muscles more than usual, something that’s essential to good yoga posture.
“We talk about engaging the core in yoga a lot. Whatever pose you’re in, you want to engage all the muscles,” DiDonato said. “When you’re on a paddlebaord of any sort, you ramp that up tenfold. You really have to be using all the muscles in your body.”
Advocates say paddleboard yoga has other advantages over traditional yoga. Performing the exercises in idyllic environments like Peconic Bay or creeks make it even more relaxing.
“To get outside of a room with no walls, no ceilings and just be on the water in the sunshine, it’s refreshing,” Yakaboski said. “It’s a nice way to work out.”
DiDonato’s Giving Room was one of the first to offer paddleboard yoga on the North Fork three years ago, but she admits she didn’t expect it to inspire so many so quickly.
“We ordered six paddleboards [for the classes] and I was concerned it was six too many,” she said.
Since then, the exercise has boomed in popularity.
“It was interesting because it was an immediate hit,” DiDonato said. “People loved it right away and we didn’t have to explain what it was. People were willing to give it a shot. Last year was huge for us.”
This year, the Giving Room yoga classes have been moving around the North Fork as they scout new locations.
DiDonato said she now sees beginners trying out paddleboard yoga too, even if they are only doing the most basic poses.
“If that’s how you want to start, that’s good,” she said. “It doesn’t just have to be people who are in shape or have great balance.”
Since the success of yoga groups like the Giving Room, others have been inspired to try out the exercise.
Yakaboski said Aerial Fitness began its paddleboard yoga classes this year at spots in Mattituck and Hampton Bays. She said even a 72-year-old woman comes to the classes. “She just bought a paddleboard and she loves it,” Yakaboski said. “When I say it’s all levels, it’s all levels.”
Aerial Fitness offers three classes at the Hampton Bays spot and currently one class in Mattituck.
Stromberg’s Venture Out on Shelter Island started to offer classes this year.
“Last year we started toying with the idea of paddleboard yoga at the end of last season,” he said. “Everyone I talked to was so interested in it. We’ve been getting a lot of calls about it, people asking about it. It’s one of these things that people really need to get out and try.”
Stromberg said he hopes to hold more advanced classes, adding he already takes paddleboarders out for private yoga lessons on the Island’s bays and streams.
“We’re just trying to push people to try it,” he said. “We live in a spot that’s the perfect place to do paddleboard yoga.”