Among the fortunes of living in the Lowcountry are the ample access to waterways and a vibrant water sports community.
Paddleboarding, surfing, kiteboarding and kayaking offer an array of opportunities for people not only to get out on the water but get some low-impact exercise in the process.
With water temperatures moving into the comfy 80s and remaining there well into early fall, now is the time to start exploring some options.
Dr. Daniel Bornstein, an assistant professor of health, exercise and sport science at The Citadel and project coordinator for the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, says seeking out opportunities to exercise on the water offers several benefits.
“Water sports represent some level of play and that's what we often lose sight of when it comes to fitness activities,” says Bornstein. “Kids are great at making play exercise, but adults tend to forget about it. That aspect of play is the inherit beauty in water sports.”
From a fitness perspective, Bornstein says board sports are ideal for stabilizing the core because of the constant need to balance.
“This is especially true for deep stabilizing muscles, so you may not get ripped washboard abs (which tend to be surface muscles) from it but you will build strength,” says Bornstein, which can help people protect themselves from the prevalence of pain in the lower back, shoulders and neck caused often caused by sitting for long periods of time.
From a standpoint of burning calories and fat, Bornstein says results can vary dramatically from intensity level, duration and the activity. For example, people will typically expend more energy surfing or paddleboarding than by kayaking, simply because the latter involves sitting.
“The more muscles you have involved in an activity, the higher the energy demand,” he adds.
Like the play aspect, Bornstein says you can't discount the psychological benefits of being in nature.
“It's great to be outdoors and in the sunshine ... it usually requires, too, that we have to unplug from our cellphones, texting, email and Facebook and that carries its own rewards,” says Bornstein. “I don't know if you could ask for a better setting than Charleston to take advantage of these activities.”
The only caveat, Bornstein adds, is safety and that's where Charleston's growing number of outfitters and sport-specific instructors can help.
Almost every community in the Charleston area has outfitters that can make equipment and access a breeze. And many are going beyond offering paddling trips, offering fitness and yoga classes on paddleboards.
Nature Adventure Outfitters, for example, started offering fitness classes that often are joined by a dolphin or manatee.
Chandler Bold, a James Island native and competitive paddleboarder, is a World Paddleboard Association and Level II PaddleFit-certified instructor at NAO. She says the stand-up paddleboard quickly has become the board of the everyday person.
Compared to surfing and kiteboarding, which are some combination of being highly technical, expensive and wave and site dependent, paddleboarding is easy and can be done virtually anywhere on the water, says Bold.
“The learning curve is amazing to me,” says Bold. “You can take someone who has never been on a board and in four or five sessions have them walking all over their board, have good technique and advance and get mileage.”
Jason Lungarini started paddleboarding six weeks ago by taking Bold's classes.
“I showed up having absolute zero experience,” recalls Lungarini, whose main activities are martial arts, working out with the TRX system and boot camps.
“I wanted to try it for fitness and to do something different. Within a couple of classes, she had us moving around. ... For me, it's a fun workout. You don't realize until the next morning that you worked out because she has you doing stuff and everyone's laughing.”
While paddleboarding itself taps nearly all the muscle groups of the body, her classes not only intensify the effect but also make people more confident on the board and on land.
“One of the misconceptions of paddleboarding is that it's all core, but once you develop your stroke, you're engaging all your muscles and your stabilizing your body, which makes you more agile on your feet as well.”
Unlike surfing or kiteboarding, which requires waves or wind, Bold says only high wind and lightning are conditions not to paddleboard in. She adds seasoned paddleboarders actually like the challenge of wind and will often coordinate “downwinder” paddles from point-to-point according to the tailwind.
Misty Lister, an instructor at Ocean Fitness on the Isle of Palms, has made many observations about stand-up paddleboarding in the five years she has been teaching technique and fitness classes.
While the majority of participants in her fitness classes are females, she says the males who show up and are led through a yoga or barre series, “aren't afraid to try it.” She adds another common trend are entire families, usually on vacation, coming out and doing it together.
“I think the sport appeals to the masses because it's very diverse, and is really four sports in one ... you can SUP surf, race, do SUP fitness, or just get on a board and paddle,” says Lister. “There are many disciplines involved with SUP that make it so special. And with proper instruction, anyone can do it. And I mean anyone.
“As an instructor, I've heard it all: 'I can't do that, I have no balance' or 'I'm not active' or 'I'm overweight and it's impossible.'
“If I can somehow convince those naysayers to just give me an hour and try it, they typically become hooked. It's a beautiful thing when you see someone overcome what they think is impossible.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.