Florida Keys: Paddleboard Yoga as a Paddleboard Novice Fatty

To escape the brutalities of New York City Winter and Seasonal Depression, I asked my mom to give me cash instead of a present for Christmas and my birthday this year. I parlayed that into a pretty cheap vacation to the Florida Keys (her gift was enough to cover my $180 round trip flight, share of our $130 car rental and 3 nights at our cabin). Part of the way this gift helped me combat seasonal depression was putting a lot of time into researching our vacation. I went down the internet and you tube rabbit holes about things to do in the Florida Keys many Winter nights. (The FloridaKeysTV you tube channel is a treasure trove, btw.)

IMG957561All photos in this post are by Tara McCabe, who lets the class send themselves the photos she takes during the class from her phone when you return to the marina!

It was a you tube video that brought me to Paddleboard Yoga! As soon as we saw it, Dara and I decided this was a top priority vacation activity.

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for six years but I’ve never been on a paddleboard. If I want to scoot around on water I prefer a kayak, where I can sit and enjoy the water while paddling. The idea of doing yoga on a paddleboard seemed scary in a fun way–I have a hard enough time with balance in the studio! Dara had never been paddleboarding, either, and she is not a huge fan of yoga but was totally sold on the adventure.

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We made a reservation with Lazy Dog Paddle Yoga (the studio? paddleboard rental place? featured in the video) and drove down to Key West from our cabin on Big Pine Key. The marina is not in the main tourist part of Key West and is right off the only highway through the Keys, the Overseas Highway, a 2 lane affair with breathtaking views.

We arrived 10 minutes before the class just in time for our instructor Tara McCabe, who founded the Paddleboard Yoga classes with Lazy Dog owner Sue Cooper, to give a paddleboarding basics class to those of us who are new to paddleboarding. A lot of the paddle mechanics were similar to kayaking but the positioning of the arms was different and I felt like I needed to have a lot more control over the paddle given that I was going to be standing up for travel. Tara mentioned we could kneel on the paddleboard while we were first getting used to how the paddle worked to navigate, which was really helpful.

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Since we were traveling from the marina to a little inlet off the canal nearby, where the yoga class would be held, we launched in groups of 3 or so from the boat ramp. As the rest of the class was getting outfitted with their boards and paddles Dara and I signed extensive waivers and paid the $30 each for the 9:30-11AM class. We could bring a towel and a water bottle with us strapped by a bungee to our board. I did some last-minute additional sunscreen application and left the rest of our bags inside the Lazy Dog shack.

We were handed one paddle each, sized to our height, and got on our knees to be shoved off into the marina. Dara went much faster than I did and I slogged along, getting used to the way the board moved. I followed Tara’s advice and waited until we were out in the canal and had made our hard right turn before I stood up on the paddleboard and began using the paddle in the correct holding from the top form.

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Being among last to arrive in the group, and the slowest paddleboarder, I felt okay about it. One of the lessons I learned early on in my yoga practice is that there is no way to “suck” at yoga, you just got at your own pace, paying attention to your own body and where your limit is. Running my own race instead of worrying about where my skills, physical ability and flexibility fits into the rubric of the class helps me just enjoy and settle in. I am often the least bendy yogi in a class but it doesn’t make me any less capable of getting all the benefits of the class and the practice. So when I was solidly holding up the rear of the paddleboard group coming into the alcove I was already fine with it.

Once in the alcove everyone dropped their anchors (these little heavy circles of some kind of metal that were clipped to the bungees on our boards) where Tara told us. She had a good sense of where the boards would drift and where folks would be best placed so as not to bump into one another. A couple of people chose to hug the mangroves for more access to shade. Mangroves are trees that line virtually every shore in the keys, with spindly roots that poke out of the water like stilts holding up the trees–mangroves are essential to the Florida Keys as they help secure land and prevent erosion. Dara was next to them during the class and said that sometimes the mangroves tickled her as she drifted into them on her board but it felt really nice.

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I intentionally wore a fatkini to the class. I sometimes am fat in public in a political way and sometimes I think showing skin is important to be like, I’m fat, I love my body and this is how I feel comfortable. But lots of people in the class, including some guys, were wearing clothes over their suits or wearing water clothing or something that you would buy in a surf shop.

Tara (pronounced with a long A) was an incredible instructor from start to finish. I loved learning paddleboarding from her, as she delivered the lesson with the patience and sweetness of a good yoga instructor. She made sure at the beginning of the class, when we all settled into our spots, that folks were reminded that yoga is not a competition and to run their own race. I know this already, but it is always nice to have a new-to-me instructor reinforce it as a class culture.

She provided great modifications to all of the poses and reminded everyone it was an all levels class. I tried to put myself into harder poses and would sense my limit and settle into wherever that was. Being in the middle of the board by the handle was the most helpful spot for balance. When preparing for this class Dara and I anticipated that one of us would fall into the water, and it turned out to be me while getting into modified Warrior 2. I don’t even know what happened or how but suddenly I was in the water. I was the first in the class to fall. (The only other person who fell toppled during a handstand and I think that was pretty badass.) Since where we were was very shallow it was really easy for me to hop back onto my board. And it did cool me off!

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I loved the sway of being on the board during poses. I loved the moments where she had us do a pose and stick a foot or a hand or arm into the water. I actually really enjoyed doing it on the board versus a mat, because I felt like there was more cushion on my board than a traditional mat (I think this was because of the type of board I happened to be on). I also found downward facing dog much easier on the board for that reason–I was most worried about falling

Tara’s meditations were great, too! At the beginning of the class she called out the full moon we were experiencing, letting go of the junk from the Winter and opening up to the coming Spring. What she was saying was definitely right-on for me. During our shavasana/end of class corpse pose, she suggested we put a towel over our head if we wanted to (which I did, it helped with shade) and put our hands out into the water. While floating there she said, “Bevin, I need you to pull your hand up,” so I did, very used to surrender during yoga to an instructor. I kind of thought she was paddling by me as she floated among the class a bit while teaching.

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It turned out there was a tiny snake that was slithering by and heading for my hand. The raise gave him enough startle that he headed in a different direction, into the mangroves. Tara said she was glad I didn’t ask why so that she didn’t startle the class with news of the snake during the shavasana.

And then before we opened our eyes she serenaded us with a ukelele version of “I Can See Clearly Now,” which was so profound, being in that beautiful, warm place with no clouds in the sky and melting away the agita of a long, cold Winter.

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My sunscreen game was NOT on point for this adventure. Next time I am going to load up on sport sunblock SPF 80+ and reapply right before shavasana. (I was using Neutrogena dry touch waterproof SPF 55.) I got a really odd burn in parts of my body (especially my knees, which from being on the board rubbed off the sunblock and then got burnt during shavasana).

After we all grabbed our anchors and delivered them to Tara’s board before we headed back to the marina, we stood up and paddled back. I was in the back of the pack, again this time on purpose to visit with Tara. She would warn us when boats passed about what kind of wake we were in for. Unfortunately, in a deep part of the channel one of the wake waves really got me and I kind of toppled to the side and fell from my standing position. It took a lot of work for me to get back on my board. Being a fatty, it can be hard to pull yourself back up onto a board or into a floating vessel, depending on your upper body strength. (I have some but not a lot.) Tara was ready with another modification for me, this time having me try to get back on the board not from the side but from the back. That part worked, with some patience and some wiggling like a seal on a surfboard. I made it back to the marina by staying mostly sitting on my board. It was faster when I was standing but I wasn’t ready to chance it again. Also, standing required a lot of tension in my thighs to hold myself balanced and they were kind of exhausted by the end of all of that paddleboarding and yoga.

Paddleboard yoga was a total trip highlight! Dara and I had so much fun and felt so peaceful afterwards. I was super achy later, mostly my arms because I hadn’t done any serious paddling like that in a long time. I would highly recommend Lazy Dog for all of your paddleboard and paddleboard yoga needs, and Tara for yoga! She teaches at Shakti in Key West, leads guided paddleboard meditations through Lazy Dog, runs Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga training and founded the Paddleboard Yoga at Lazy Dog!

Next time we go to the Florida Keys, Dara and I intend to try doing it twice during our trip as well as a meditation!

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. You’re such a badass. I think it every post, but had to tell you this time. I love that you try everything and just go for it. I don’t have the nerve yet to rock a “fatkini”, but I’ve tried paddleboarding before and found it too challenging for my particular fitness level. My legs shook from minute one and it was far too exhausting to maintain a standing or even kneeling position – and as you noted, sitting slows you down a lot. Maybe I’ll try again now that I’m hiking regularly, but I’m still pretty gun-shy. Again, inspiring post – thank you!

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