SUP Design Considerations...


Published June 05, 2011

Get in shape while teetering on the Sound

CRAIG HILL; staff writer 

As far as core exercises go, the Bird Dog is pretty rudimentary.

**Simply get on all fours, reach your right hand forward, extended your left leg behind you and tighten your abs for balance so you don’t get wet.

OK, the part about getting wet only applies to workouts with Chris Fry, an Olympia personal trainer who recently brought a new type of fitness class to the South Sound.

For Fry and his clients, their gym is Puget Sound and their exercise mats are floating paddleboards.

On these stand-up paddleboards – slightly bigger and more stable than surf boards – Fry’s classes do core exercises, cardiovascular drills and, if you’re really good, yoga.

Sure, one wrong move and you’re swimming, but Fry says it’s pretty rare for participants to fall in.

“It’s a stoke,” said Fry, who owns West Bay Paddleboards. “It’s so much better than the gym.”

When Fry invited me to participate in one of his first classes, I was sure it would culminate in me turning a Downward Dog into a doggie paddle, but I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I felt comfortable.

I started by paddling for a few minutes on my knees in Olympia’s East Bay, then, following Fry’s lead, I set my feet shoulder-width apart and cautiously moved into a standing position.

I felt like every muscle in my body was clinched as I took my first few tentative paddles.

After just a few minutes I started to relax and it was time for the class to begin.

“If you have a calm presence, you probably aren’t going to fall in,” said Kirsten Grohe, who has been stand up paddleboarding for just over a year.

Fry agrees, saying that he’s only had two clients fall in this season.

“They were fearful from the start,” Fry said. “They couldn’t get it out of their heads so they were not comfortable”

The workout started with a paddle to some pylons about 100 yards from the dock and was followed with sprint intervals into the wind on the way back.

The board – 111/2 feet long and 311/2 inches wide – felt stable under my feet and as I looked ahead I saw something you’ll never see at the gym.

“Look, a seal,” one of the four members of the class said pointing at a brown head peaking out of the water.

**After the warm-up paddle, we found a glass-smooth part of East Bay near the docks to do some core drills, but, in reality, we’d started working our cores the moment we stepped on the boards.

“It is a great core workout and you are working your glutes and hamstring and legs too,” Fry said. “It doesn’t feel like you are working out because you are out here enjoying nature and being on the water. It’s like a Zen workout.

“But you’ll feel it the next day.”

The stand-up paddleboard (or SUP, as the regulars call it) exercises are similar to those you’d do in a standard core class: the Bird Dog, ab cycles (moving your legs as if pedaling a bike while holding your upper body off the board) and plank (using core muscles to hold a pushup position on your hands or elbows).

But on the water the boards rock slightly with every movement forcing you to use your core more in the search for stability.**

“It lends itself naturally to a core workout,” said Joe Foss, a 33-year-old Olympia resident, moments after finishing his first class. “It already requires balance so it makes your workout a little harder.”

Grohe does yoga, mountain biking and many other activities and says SUP fitness is her favorite workout.

“The connection with my core is so much greater,” she said. “My body awareness is heightened. I feel stronger.”

**In addition to core workouts and the exercise from paddling, the only limitation to SUP fitness is your imagination.

Grohe has seen paddle boarders doing burpees (dropping from a standing position into a pushup, thrusting your knees toward your chest and then jumping back to your feet). And Grohe and Fry both do yoga on their boards.

Yoga, however, requires more experience than the core class, Fry said, because most of the positions are held on the board’s centerline – the least stable part of the board.

While Grohe and Fry haven’t quite worked their way up to doing headstands on the board, they’ve seen it done.

Grohe envisions moves like this being easier to learn on a paddleboard than in a gym because a floating paddleboard gives feedback when you make a mistake.**

“You feel it when you have too much weight on one side or the other and your body can correct itself,” Grohe said. “You don’t get that on solid ground.”

Foss says he’s never done yoga on land or sea, but he’s excited to try anything on his new paddleboard. He got hooked on the sport during a Hawaiian vacation with his girlfriend, Cathy Wang, in February.

“I remember saying, ‘We need to do this on the Sound,’ ” Foss said. “I started looking for places to try it as soon as we got back.”

They found West Bay Paddleboards and went out for a paddle with Fry in April. Within a week they’d each purchased boards. Fry said good boards start at about $800 and paddles go for about $100.

“You are getting a workout and you are getting out in nature,” Foss said. “It’s a great way to clear your head.”

Grohe says the sport is ideal for women because her board weighs just 23 pounds.

“From a woman’s perspective, I can do this,” Grohe said. “I can pick it up and move it from the car to the water. A kayak? That is an event. I need somebody to help me.”

Ken Campbell, a kayak guide from Tacoma, has never done a fitness class on a paddleboard, but has experienced the benefits of the sport firsthand.

“It’s a great workout for the whole body,” Campbell said. He credits SUP and a balanced diet to dropping 60 pounds over the last two years.

“And it doesn’t even feel like you are working out,” he said.

That’s exactly how I felt after about 90 minutes on the water. I wanted to keep going, a feeling I hardly ever have after working out at the gym.

“That’s why I see this getting really big around here, especially in the summer months when it is warm,” Grohe said. “It’s a different dynamic to working out that I think a lot of people will enjoy.”

Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays in The News Tribune and The Olympian. Please submit questions and comments via, or

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SUP 101: Learn where to go, what to read and more about stand up paddleboarding.


Bet there Chinese made sups