The last and only time I was on a paddleboard was more than two years ago in Islamorada. Coincidentally, that’s also about the last time I took a Pilates class.

As a semi-physically fit Gen Xer who modifies Pilates movements in group fitness classes, I was both enthusiastic and intimidated at my inaugural Paddle Pilates session at North Guana Outpost. My reservations evaporated after instructor Kelly Rowles assured us that these classes are ideal for both novices and experienced Pilates and paddleboard fans alike. The common denominators among participants are a sense of adventure and love for the outdoors.

She gave us a 15-minute land-based overview on proper paddle maneuvers, mounting and dismounting, and accidental paddleboard fall off protocol.

We carefully sidestepped oyster beds and slid our bare feet through the muddy bottom. The group escorted the paddleboards out into knee-deep water at the Nocatee Kayak & Paddle Sports Launch on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. Positioning our paddles horizontally across the boards, we carefully mounted the boards on our knees.


Mounting them can be a little tricky, but once onboard, paddle boards provide a remarkably stable platform for core work.

“Make sure the sweet spot of your board is centered between your knees,” Rowles said. “We’ll paddle a little further out with our hands, then we’ll stabilize our feet and carefully roll up to a standing position.”

The key to maintaining balance and purposeful padding is to engage the core muscles.

Most of the paddling power comes from the abdominal muscles, and not so much the upper arms. I suggest paddling behind your instructor and following his or her technique, much as you would in a group fitness class, to nail down the mechanics of the different strokes. Correct technique will help you paddle straight, navigate to the right or left, negotiate the wake of passing watercraft and avoid being swept too close to private docks, with which I had more than one near-collision. Once I settled into a rhythm of fluid strokes, I averted my concentration away from my feet and the paddle—which is a no-no anyway—and properly trained my gaze ahead of the nose, or front, of the board.


Instructor Kelly Rowles warms up with Downward Dog on the paddle board before class on the water.

Natural beauty surrounded us everywhere. Undisturbed flora and fauna served as the backdrop for our stopping point, which was about a 15-minute paddle away from our launching site.

We spent 30 minutes moving through various Pilates poses, as a soft breeze whispered through the air and water lapped at our anchored boards. We began cat and cow stretches, then moved through opposite arm and leg extensions, planks, side leg kicks, table tops and one-legged pikes. A ripple from a boat’s wake tested our endurance, as the paddleboards swayed beneath us while in reverse plank pose. As we worked, ospreys glided overhead. A bald eagle witnessed our exertions from atop a bare pine branch nearby. Fish occasionally popped up, while egrets stood watch along the marshy banks.

We performed about six to eight repetitions of each exercise. The challenge of completing each move while avoiding a plop into the water doubled the intensity.

The activity from start to finish is 90 minutes, so be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and comfortable water-friendly active-wear. Paddle Pilates is an invigorating workout for the senses and a refreshing alternative to the fitness classroom and mat. I didn’t fall in the water, but I fell for this class.

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