On a sunny day in Port San Luis, dozens of sea lions bark like dogs while jockeying for position on a dock. Boats gently bob in the salty water as waves slap against a wall of boulders on the shore. And amidst that natural splendor, bordered by the rolling hills of Avila Beach, Rose Cutrer is floating on water, with eyes closed as she meditates on a 10-1/2-foot board.
“I like to get out and commune with nature,” said Cutrer, of San Luis Obispo. “To do yoga, which is already such a deeply personal, spiritual journey, and to take that out to nature really creates that connection with the water and the air and sunshine around you — it just takes it to another level.”
Cutrer is taking part in a trend — SUP yoga — that combines stand-up paddleboarding and yoga. While SUP yoga offers challenges you won’t find in a studio, those who do it say it’s both physically and emotionally rewarding.
“I’d done Bikram, which is the hot yoga, so it was really, really sticky and sweaty,” said Lee Egan, a See Canyon resident who finds SUP yoga less confining than its indoor counterpart. “Just the idea of being out there as opposed to a yoga studio was phenomenal. Sea lions and harbor seals around us — it was really cool.”
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Stand-up paddle boarding entails standing on an oversize surfboard, using a paddle to navigate. While stand-up paddle boarding has Polynesian roots, it was re-popularized in the early 2000s by Hawaiian big wave surfers who wanted to train whenever the swell was down. While the sport has grown rapidly — even people in landlocked states now paddle on lakes and rivers — in the past five years it has been taken in a different direction by the yoga community.
In an ocean setting, those engaging in SUP yoga will take their board — usually at least 10 feet long — to a calm spot using a paddle to navigate. While on their board, they do the typical yoga poses.
But on the water what looks like a smooth surface is constantly moving.
“Your classroom is always changing,” said Seanna Tracy, a San Luis Obispo resident who teaches SUP yoga through her school, Seanna Yoga. “All you can expect is the unexpected. There’s not one thing predictable about being in the bay or being in the ocean — or just the water in general — because of the movement.”
While that can be freeing, she said, as an instructor she’s constantly watching after her pupils.
“The weather can change. The tide can change. A boat can come in,” said Tracy, who demonstrated her skills inside the Morro Bay harbor. “There are so many factors and elements, you really have to be on your game.” To gain stability, some will attach an anchor to their boards or tie them to a piece of kelp. Still, being on water requires concentration, stability and core strength.
“Obviously, your shoulders are going to be engaged,” said Cutrer, who partners with Central Coast Kayaks to teach through her business, SUPward Dog. “Your legs, your thighs, your quadriceps, your calves. Pretty much everything is engaged, just like yoga, and I think almost more because it’s like doing yoga on top of a stability ball.”
For some, the idea of yoga on water is daunting.
“If you lose your footing in regular yoga, you’re fine,” said Ally Allison, a San Luis Obispo resident who has been doing SUP yoga for four years. “Here you take a splash.”
When Egan began feeling comfortable doing yoga on an SUP board, he figured he’d try a headstand and wound up getting soaked.
“I went over backward a few times,” he said. “But it was fun. It’s the water. You can do that and fall in and jump right back up.”
Headstands and one-legged poses are definitely more challenging on water than land. But the challenge is one of the benefits, Cutrer said.
“There’s also an element of pushing yourself — doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone.” Cutrer said. “That, I think, is a real rush for people.”
On the Central Coast, the best time for SUP yoga is in the summer and fall — when the weather is more predictable.
On a calm day, even beginners can do basic yoga poses on a board, said Tracy, who also teaches acro-yoga, which combines yoga, acrobatics and dance. And while there won’t be any meditational music to guide the poses, that’s okay; Nature has its own soundtrack.
“That’s why we’re out here — to tune out media and music and all other noises and listen to the water,” Tracy said. “Listen to your breath. Listen to the birds. Feel the sun shining on your skin.”
To learn about SUP yoga and SUP tours with SUPward Dog, which will begin in April, call Rose Cutrer at (805) 888-9373 or visit SUPward Dog on Facebook. For more information on SUP yoga and acro-yoga with Seanna Yoga, call Seanna Tracy at 704-0520 or visit Seanna Yoga on Facebook.