Board Meets Barre

As I lie on my back—feet firmly planted, hands clasped behind my head—twisting to reach my right elbow to my left knee, I think about how good it feels to stretch and move—and how my abs will probably be sore tomorrow. I think about the captivating melody floating through the air. I think about the gentle breeze helping to cool my body from the workout. But one thought that’s easy to forget in this position is that I’m floating on a board in the middle of the water.

Virginia Beach native Whitney Lee started Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Barre last summer after she realized that such a thing didn’t yet exist in Coastal Virginia. She grew up surfing and eventually gained an interest in SUP because it’s more accessible, she says. Then three years ago she began teaching barre, inspired by ballet but also including movements from yoga and pilates. So it seemed natural to combine the two.

Having never ridden a stand up paddleboard and having never taken a barre class, I wasn’t sure I’d get the hang of this. But I sure do enjoy a workout that doesn’t feel like work. 

I arrive at The Narrows at First Landing State Park Saturday morning to meet Lee and my classmates, whom, I’m happy to learn, are also new at this. Lee gives a brief overview of how to get up on the board, how to maneuver and how to get back on (should we happen to lose our balance).

Cova Paddle Board

Soon after, I’m rowing out into the water and standing (a little shakily) on my board. Lee’s tips for staying balanced are to keep our knees slightly bent and to look out on the horizon, not down at the board. Once we paddle out for about 10 minutes, she instructs us to drop our anchors into the water, and the barre class begins.

Lee pumps the music from her portable speaker, and we start in first position with feet together, then second with feet apart, performing several rounds of demi-plies, plies, squats and pulses, using our paddles as the barre to give extra stability and balance. Before long, my legs are feeling the burn. Lee instructs us—if we feel comfortable—to lift our heels slightly off the board. I feel myself losing my balance on this one, so I quickly put my heels back down, but suddenly I hear a big splash behind me. One of my classmates didn’t get her heels back on the board in time, but she took the tumble quite gracefully and now emerges from the water, explaining that she’d simply gotten hot and wanted to cool off a bit, to which we all chuckle.

Cova Paddle Board

Next we lie on our sides and backs, following Lee’s instructions to stretch our muscles and strengthen our cores. For a cooldown, we get into downward-facing dog—yes, it can be done on a paddleboard (I didn’t think so either)—and end with a seated, cross-legged position, bringing our hands to our centers.

During this time, my focus turns to a nearby osprey, perched in a large stick nest, feeding her babies. I strain to see, wondering how many birds are in the nest. Then as I look around, I wonder if everyone knows that such a divine spot exists. And as I stand up and begin paddling back to shore, I wonder why all my workouts don’t involve floating on a board in the middle of the water. 

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