MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — Sun glinted off Echo Lake as five paddleboarders taking a class with Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding made their way to a quiet cove. Their experiences with paddleboarding and yoga varied, but once out on the water, that mattered little.
Instead, instructor Alex Taylor worked to keep class more about having fun, exercising and connecting with nature.
Stand-up paddleboarding has been common in Maine for several years. During the summer, the state’s many rivers, lakes and coastlines are home to young and old standing on long boards, exploring the waterways.
But it was only recently that paddleboard enthusiasts and companies such as Acadia SUP started combining the low-impact sport with another: yoga. These days, classes and programs in Bar Harbor and southern Maine are indicative of a national trend that has yogis and paddlers alike eager to accept the new challenge.
Many of the customers at Acadia SUP’s yoga classes are newbies to stand-up paddleboarding, yoga or both. Only a handful hit the water regularly — but for owner Chris Strout, that’s OK.
“It’s very novel, still, for a lot of people,” he said.
Strout explained his company’s “bread and butter” is not their speciality classes, such as paddleboard yoga, but rather rentals and paddleboarding basics at lakes and in the ocean. Still, when he heard about the yoga trend, he knew it was an opportunity to “diversify” his revenue stream.
Classes cost $25 for 75 minutes of instruction and a rental of all needed gear: a 9- to 12-foot board, a paddle, a lifejacket and an anchor so the board doesn’t float away. Strout said he knows it may be pricey for some people to do regularly — yoga studios often charge $12 to $15 per class — so he tries to offer incentives, such as a free class after four.
So far, it has been working. Classes started in mid-June and regularly are full or close to it. Taylor — who lives in Los Angeles, California, part time and said the sport is “taking off everywhere” — said the classes in Bar Harbor are indicative of how quickly it’s catching on.
“It’s trendy. It’s exciting for people to try. It’s a great combination of things; you get to move and get some cardio along with traditional yoga,” she said.
Yoga instructor Holly Twining, who recently started a company called Maine Yoga Adventures, said it’s becoming more common for yoga students to seek unique or different classes, whether they’re new to the practice or are an expert.
“Yoga has started falling into many different categories: You have chair yoga, paddleboard yoga, aerial yoga,” Twining said. “Now that [yoga is common] a lot of people are looking at how we can enhance our practice or find new challenges, and taking it off the mat is fun for people.”
Connecting with nature
Southwest Harbor resident Brian Ulbrich started paddleboarding about a year ago. He loved being on the water, and it offered him a different perspective than he was used to with kayaking.
He also started looking into practicing yoga around the same time.
“I like to try to keep young and limber, and yoga is easy on your body,” Ulbrich said.
After one class in a traditional studio, he decided he was better off practicing outside and while floating.
Paddleboard yoga “lends itself to focusing on the world around you,” Ulbrich said. “The fusion of paddleboarding and yoga is a great combination: It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
Taylor said a lot of her fellow yoga instructors are looking to move their practice outside.
“Once you’ve done it, you get hooked and curious. You want to see what else you can do,” she said. “I don’t even do yoga inside anymore. I love to just take the board out and play.”
Twining agrees and said yoga has always had a holistic component that is enhanced by bringing it outside.
“Taking yoga out of the regular practice [environment] is just another way to connect with nature,” she said.
And it’s a great way to focus entirely on the moment, something yoga teachers frequently are reminding their students to practice.
“You really have to be present in what you’re doing. When you’re on a paddleboard, it’s really hard to check out,” Taylor said.
An activity for all
When Twining started practicing paddleboard yoga, she taught lessons at the University of Maine swimming pool in Orono. Something she noticed right away was the range of options for students.
In addition to the fun factor, many students felt more comfortable trying challenging poses knowing they weren’t going to face plant into a hard, wooden floor.
“They felt safe enough. You know you can fall in the water, and it’s going to be OK,” she said. “They would fall, laugh it off and get back on.”
When Ulbrich returned to class last week in MDI, he brought along his 9-year-old daughter, Emma Mattingly. Emma had been on a paddleboard with her father but hadn’t ever done yoga. Shortly after starting class, she was holding poses alongside some of the more experienced students.
It demonstrative of what Taylor said is another big draw. Poses usually are easy at first, then become more challenging. All have an advanced option for those who want to push it further.
“It’s beginner friendly, but it’s also great for experts, too,” she said. “Yoga gets exciting again. Even advanced yogis are going to find it challenging.”