Health & Fitness

Workout on the water: Paddleboarding, Pilates combine in core exercise

Students lift their legs to a 45-degree angle in Pilates H2O, a new class in Coconut Grove that blends paddleboarding with Pilates.
Students lift their legs to a 45-degree angle in Pilates H2O, a new class in Coconut Grove that blends paddleboarding with Pilates. For the Miami Herald

Love Pilates and the water?

A new workout combining Pilates and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has made its home in the waters off Coconut Grove. The combo classes debuted on a recent Saturday morning on Biscayne Bay, behind the U.S. Sailing Center on South Bayshore Drive.

The idea came about when Melina Cherry, owner of an indoor paddle fitness studio, SUP the Workout, and Christa Gurka, owner of Pilates in the Grove, mixed their two passions. They dubbed their new workout Pilates H20.

“SUP enthusiasts are often seeking ways to kick up their workouts a notch,” Cherry said. “Pilates H20 is the answer to that request.”

Gurka and Cherry’s studios are just a four-minute walk apart in the Grove. A mix of Cherry and Gurka’s students tried the first class, along with Marta Lista of Coral Gables, who before this workout, had never tried Pilates or SUP.

“It feels really good, like you've worked out your whole body,” she said of the 75-minute class.

Cherry teaches proper paddling techniques for the first 30 minutes, then Gurka shows students basic forms of Pilates. The students are on boards in the water the entire time.

“Since the platform is unstable,” Gurka said, “we are adding a whole new element of core strength and intense focus, taking a traditional Pilates practice to an entirely new level.”

Her background is in orthopedic physical therapy, treating knee and shoulder injuries and spinal dysfunctions. Among her clients at her 5-year-old Pilates studio: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Stand-up paddling originated in Hawaii; it’s a blend of surfing and Polynesian canoe paddling. German-born Joseph Pilates developed Pilates as a series of controlled movements to strengthen the body’s core. He had been interned in Britain during World War I and began teaching other Germans in the camp his methods.

“SUP and Pilates go hand in hand: concentration, balance, proper breathing, relaxation and a sense of adventure,” Gurka said.

All but one of the seven students on a recent Saturday were beginners. Even with sudden, heavy rainfall that lasted about 10 minutes in the middle of the class, no one fell off the 12-foot boards and none retreated for shelter. Instead, they kept paddling while practicing their form and reach.

One of the Pilates exercises Gurka taught is “the hundred.’’ You lie with your back on the board, with knees bent and raised over your hips. Then you lengthen your legs to a 45-degree angle, inhaling as you lift your legs and arms up, exhaling as you come down.

Pilates focuses on building spinal strength and drawing focus to each breath. Beginning exercises like “the hundred” are said to increase blood circulation while building abdominal strength. Other lessons taught included bridging, planks and spine-stretching techniques.

Erin Housiaux, 37, who teaches at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, jumped on the opportunity to try the workout. “I loved it. I thought it was great to be outside getting a great core workout and the rain didn’t even bother me,” she said. “It was beautiful the whole time.”

Though the class consisted mostly of novices, classes with different skill levels will be added in the future. Talks of offering a sunset Pilates H20 class on Fridays are in the works. Each class will be capped at 10 students, and Gurka plans to develop a sequence of Pilates moves that exercise muscles needed for stand-up paddleboarding.

“I think it will catch on,” Cherry said. “There's no one in the area doing anything like this.”

If you go

What: Pilates H20 classes; open to all ages and fitness levels.

When: 9 to 10:15 a.m. Saturdays at the U.S. Sailing Center, 2476 S. Bayshore Dr., Coconut Grove.

Cost: $30 per class if you have your own board; $55 if you need to rent a board.

Register: or

Contact: Melina Cherry, 561-644-6873; Christa Gurka, 305-446-6899.

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