Even the nimblest among us plateau. Just when you think you can’t improve, it’s time to innovate. That’s why on this October morning I’m lying on my back, embarking on a kinetic adventure. The water below is flat as a mirror. We’re floating among the anchored sailboats off Sausalito, a couple of seals lazily rolling by. It’s 7:20 a.m., and I’m barefoot, about to go shirtless. Possibilities appear when you stretch and cross with the unexpected. Stand up paddling, or SUP, is one of those possibilities, a new sport that’s catching on like wildfire. Today, I’m exploring a fresh offshoot, a version where oddly enough you don’t stand. Or paddle. It’s SUP Pilates, the latest twist on the world’s fastest growing water sport.
“Take a breath,” says Claudia Breuer, our svelte SUP Pilates instructor. “Now, as you rise up, shout out something.”
Claudia is ten feet away on her own board, so relaxed she might be lounging on a lawn. She presses her paddle forward, and smoothly rises like a human puppet pulled by a string.
Now it’s our turn.
“Arrggh!” I grumble. My 12’6” board rocks uneasily, my toes feel the bracing shock of the icy water. But I still haven’t managed to get off my back. Claudia has been doing this a long time. She lived in Kauai, surfs, and is a Desolation Outdoors SUP ambassador and the San Francisco Bay Area founder of SUPilates. Balancing on the board is harder than it looks.
On the third try, I growl louder, and suddenly I’m up, shifting to balancing just on my butt. Pilates is about tiny, precise movements. On the board, with the ever-present threat of slipping into the 57-degree water, awareness is heightened. My favorite sports have always been about balance – skiing, inline skating, and now SUP – but as Claudia coaxes us onto our sides and we scissor our legs back and forth, dipping a toe in the water, I experience something radical. Perspective flips. The world looks gigantic from this unlikely angle, my eyes just inches from the waterline. And I feel every ripple.
Proprioception is the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body. One classic method of heightening your proprioceptive powers is to challenge yourself within harsh environments. Say, stand on one foot – with your eyes closed. SUP Pilates makes that seem like child’s play.
There are many ways we seek inspiration. Research and study are traditional methods. But today more people seek ideas through play, exploration, creative observations, and taking risks. Cross-pollination is my favorite path to create and innovate. It’s a springboard to new developments. Especially when we supercharge that path by simultaneously engaging our emotions. What’s intriguing is how fast this is happening in all sorts of environments, from mobile food trucks and parks (revolutionizing our experience of eating out), to co-working spaces and cafes (threatening the dusty domain of fixed offices). Things just don’t stay the same for long anymore, and the innovator draws from a broader palette.
Look around the dynamic edges and eddies of something hot, and you’re likely to find opportunities for hybridization. SUP is a wonderfully physical and visual example. This once outlier pursuit, originally practiced by only a handful of Hawaiian surfers, has begun to accelerate. In the past few years, dozens of board manufacturers have entered the arena, offering numerous experiential paths to hook people – recreation, adventure, surfing, racing, fitness. SUP shops are popping up, offering lessons, fun races, adventure paddles and community. Elegant simplicity fuels innovation. Since all you need is a board and paddle, SUP is proliferating on oceans, bays, and rivers, enticing new enthusiasts from all walks – young, old, athletic, and recreational. Kayaking and rowing, meanwhile, are faltering.
When something fresh generates that much momentum – think the internet, mobile tech, Facebook, LinkedIn – clever and imaginative opportunists climb aboard, riding a rising tide of popularity. For example, the first SUP cross-pollination was SUP Yoga, then SUP Fitness, and now SUP Pilates (there’s even SUP Fishing and SUP Lacrosse). Claudia first learned Pilates more than a decade ago, then five years into it, picked up SUP in Kauai. Crossing it with Pilates seemed to her a natural choice: “I love combining my passions.”
Seeing SUP leapfrog over traditional water sports has been a visceral lesson in how ideas and innovation spread. We learn through experimentation and passion. We learn by getting out of our mental, physical, and emotional ruts.
SUP’s lineage traces to many cultures, all the way back to the gondoliers. After my inspiring dawn class with Claudia, I jumped on my even longer 14-footer, and dreamed of Venetian canals and abandoned islands, threading my passage through the sailboats that dot Sausalito’s waters, shutting my eyes for ten seconds at a stretch, channeling an effortless rhythm and balance.
Just when you think you can’t get any better, it’s time to innovate.