San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Zen and the art of Paddleboarding

From the print edition

A top oversized surfboards, two women practice yoga in the pool at the Doubletree Hotel in San José. Drifting around under the careful watch of a dozen journalists, the surfistas hold headstands with composure. They’re here to demonstrate the up-and-coming sport of paddleboarding.

Paddleboarding requires a large, specialized surfboard upon which participants usually stand upright and propel with an elongated canoe paddle. The sport began in Hawaii, where lifeguards patrolled the water beyond the breaking waves with long boards and canoe paddles. This allowed them to monitor those learning to surf, and to be close at hand if assistance was needed.

Last week, it was Bettina del Rio and María del Mar who jumped in the water and demonstrated paddleboard yoga. José Ureña, president of the National Surf Federation, said the water sport is ideal for athletes of all levels of fitness. Paddleboards come in forms built for touring, racing, wave surfing, whitewater (river use) and fitness (yoga/Pilates).

“The Surf Federation wants to adapt to the rapid evolution of this particular branch of surfing,” Ureña said. “We have clinics to teach new athletes, and with this we are starting a national circuit that visits beaches not typically used for surfing.”

With a surface that’s constantly moving, muscles in the entire body are engaged to balance and control the board. Though much less difficult to maneuver than regular surfboards, paddleboards exercise the core and legs as well as the arms, which are necessary to pole the craft through the water.

“It’s become a physical and social sport that’s light on the environment, and it can be practiced on the ocean, lakes and rivers,” said Gustavo Corrales, chief competition judge for the Surf Federation. Additional uses include fishing, water rescues and surfer training, Corrales said. 

After demonstrating paddleboard yoga, María del Mar spoke to journalists about the sport, which she considers highly conducive to practicing yoga. That said, she doesn’t suggest beginning yogis start out on paddleboards. 

“Practicing on the water gives you a window to a different level in your workout and a different level mentally,” she said. “It’s like you’re transported to another world, just you, the sun and the sea.”

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