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Healthy obsession: Stand up paddleboard yoga floats on in Vancouver

When stand up paddleboard yoga first started, some wondered if the sport would just be a passing trend. Five years later, it's still making a splash.

Kristy Wright Schell, founder and owner of Just Add Water Yoga, which operates Stand Up Paddle Vancouver, practices yoga on her stand up paddleboard in English Bay.

Courtesy Kristy Wright Schell

Kristy Wright Schell, founder and owner of Just Add Water Yoga, which operates Stand Up Paddle Vancouver, practices yoga on her stand up paddleboard in English Bay.

When Kristy Wright Schell started teaching stand up paddleboard yoga in 2011, she wondered if the fitness fad would float with yogis.

The founder and owner of Just Add Water Yoga, which operates Stand Up Paddle Vancouver, said stand up paddleboard had only just started gaining in popularity and some wondered if adding yoga would just be a passing trend.

Kristy Wright Schell, founder and owner of Just Add Water Yoga, which operates Stand Up Paddle Vancouver, practices yoga on her stand up paddleboard in English Bay.

Courtesy Kristy Wright Schell

Kristy Wright Schell, founder and owner of Just Add Water Yoga, which operates Stand Up Paddle Vancouver, practices yoga on her stand up paddleboard in English Bay.

“The first two years, it definitely was a big question mark for people,” she told Metro. “They didn’t even really know what stand-up paddleboard was.”

Now five years later, Wright Schell said the sport, also known as “SUP yoga,” has made a big splash in Vancouver, with the number of people signing up for lessons at her company doubling each year.

Stand up paddleboard, which originated in Hawaii, involves paddlers standing upright on a board that is similar to a surfboard, and using a long paddle to manoeuvre through the water.

The origins of how yoga was added to the sport are murky, but Wright Schell said the size and shape of the board likely played a role. 

“I think a lot of us yogis looked at the stand up paddleboard and thought, ‘that kind of looks like a big yoga mat— I bet I could do a few moves on it,’” she said with a laugh.

While people of any skill level can try SUP yoga, Wright Schell said seasoned yogis are especially drawn to the sport.

SUP Yoga instructor Kristy Wright Schell, centre, leads a stand up paddleboard yoga class in Vancouver.

Courtesy Kristy Wright Schell

SUP Yoga instructor Kristy Wright Schell, centre, leads a stand up paddleboard yoga class in Vancouver.

The unstable surface of the paddleboard challenges their core strength and balance muscles, also known as “fast-twitch muscles,” and allows yogis to reach a new level in their practice, she said.

“One of the most common things we hear when someone first stands up is, ‘I feel like my legs are shaking,’” she said. “It’s actually just awakening your muscle. It’s really great for your overall body workout.”

No matter how experienced someone becomes at SUP yoga, Wright Schell said the sport continues to challenge practitioners. 

“We often say, ‘the ocean will humble any experience,’” she said. “Just when you think you’ve got it, a wave will come through and it will challenge you at another level.”

In Vancouver, the “yoga capital of Canada,” it makes sense that the SUP yoga has taken off, she said.

In her first year, only about 20 people took lessons, which range from one to three hours, said Wright Schell Now, the company sees about 400 people each year during paddling season, which lasts from May to October.

Asked if she still wonders if SUP yoga is a passing trend, Wright Schell was quick to dispel that idea.

“I most certainly think it’s here to stay,” she said. 

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