Om on the Ocean

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Sunset Stand Up Paddle sup yoga_credit Erin O'Malley
A Sunset Stand Up Paddle student does downward dog on the board | Photo by Erin O’Malley

Find your flow with SUP yoga sessions off the Laguna coast or other destinations.

By Sharon Stello

 

People often go to the ocean for its calming effect, watching the waves roll in and out, feeling the sea breeze and the sand between their toes. But the big blue also provides an ideal setting to take your yoga practice to a new level—on a stand-up paddleboard—giving new meaning to finding balance.

Those wanting to try it out can arrange an individual or private group lesson with Laguna Beach-based Sunset Stand Up Paddle, owned by Erin O’Malley, a former member of the U.S. Snowboard Team and rock climber who embraced yoga and paddleboarding while recovering from injuries. O’Malley started her SUP business more than a decade ago, leading classes at Lake Mission Viejo before moving the sessions to Laguna in 2014.

“Doing savasana, just lying there in the sun with the water moving and all the sounds of the sea is pretty awesome,” O’Malley says. “And, to be honest, SUP yoga is really cool because it levels the playing field. … Advanced yogis can do crazy stuff in a studio, [but] going out on the water and doing Warrior II is like crazy hard. … It breeds a lot of play and fun. And it’s not so intense and serious. It’s like, ‘Let’s see how this goes.’ ”

Participants must know how to swim, but no experience is necessary; personal flotation device waist belts are provided as well as inflatable SUP boards and paddles. In addition to the private SUP yoga sessions, O’Malley also leads stand-up paddling tours along the coast and has started offering trips to Black Canyon on the Colorado River, Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park, Catalina Island and other locales. The next trip will be in October to Bacalar, Mexico. “It’s the second largest lake in Mexico and it’s fed by cenotes—[water-filled limestone sinkholes or caves]. It’s like turquoise blue water. It’s unbelievably gorgeous,” she says.

 

Laguna Beach Magazine: What kind of a workout do you get from SUP yoga?

Erin O’Malley: [It takes] a lot of balance, so the small, proprioceptive muscles get a great workout. And then paddling is one of the best low-intensity workouts because you’re … [exercising] your core—core is one of the biggest factors in paddling. Then your upper back, shoulders, arms and your legs because of the balance factor. So, as far as low-impact sports go, paddleboarding is one of the best.

 

Erin O’Malley Sunset Stand Up Paddle_credit Sean Murphy
Erin O’Malley owns Sunset Stand Up Paddle, which offers lessons in SUP yoga. | Photo by Sean Murphy

What are the challenges of doing yoga on a paddleboard?

EO: Depending on the environment—so let’s say open ocean versus protected waters, which is a lake or harbor—just the movement and the currents that you are trying to balance on [with] a board or platform. … It just is a very dynamic environment.

 

Where are the best places to do SUP yoga in Laguna?

EO: Off of Bird Rock and … below Thalia [Street Beach]. … In general, I would say launching from the north coves definitely provides more protection, or really just any of our smaller coves, depending on which direction they’re facing—those are your best bets. Where I launch at St. Ann’s [Beach] in some ways is a really good area, but in other ways isn’t because it’s more exposed. … But in the summertime, they put up the black ball [flags], so it gives us this kind of launch window or avenue, if you will, between the designated surf area and swim area … where in the north coves, the [life]guards will often get in the water and have to part the sea of swimmers to get boards in and out.

 

Do you see much wildlife out on the water?

EO: Because Laguna is an MPA—[Marine Protected Area]—as you know, it just has so much life and beauty to it. I mean, like a week ago … my client, it was her first time on the open ocean and we had two pods of bottlenose [dolphins] that paddled with us for two hours straight. … We have such a thriving marine life population that it makes it really special. … We often see seal pups and adult seals. Not very many sea lions. At times it can be stingrays, bat rays, gray whales—I’ve had times where I’ve paddled with a gray whale for like an hour. … I’ve seen mola mola out there, which is the sunfish. They’re so cool. They’re so alien looking, but they’re awesome. And then this last year, we had some reef sharks. … Up until then, I had never seen reef sharks in Laguna.Because Laguna is an MPA—[Marine Protected Area]—as you know, it just has so much life and beauty to it. I mean, like a week ago … my client, it was her first time on the open ocean and we had two pods of bottlenose [dolphins] that paddled with us for two hours straight. … We have such a thriving marine life population that it makes it really special. … We often see seal pups and adult seals. Not very many sea lions. At times it can be stingrays, bat rays, gray whales—I’ve had times where I’ve paddled with a gray whale for like an hour. … I’ve seen mola mola out there, which is the sunfish. They’re so cool. They’re so alien looking, but they’re awesome. And then this last year, we had some reef sharks. … Up until then, I had never seen reef sharks in Laguna.

 

For someone who’s going to try it for the first time, what should they know or expect?

EO: Expect that they may very well fall into the water. And truly to just have fun and not worry about it. People often in yoga get very meticulous about their position and alignment—and we do our best to make sure people are in good alignment—but it’s really meant just to have fun and be in your body and just enjoy the experience without expectation. [That] would be my top recommendation to somebody who’s new to it.


Seaworthy Supplies

Gear up with these accessories to stay comfortable while finding balance on the water.

 

Opt for yoga pants and a rashguard in the cooler months or soak up the sun in a swimsuit while flowing through poses during the summer.

Hobie’s polarized MOJO FLOAT SUNGLASSES
Shield your eyes from the glare of the sun with Hobie’s polarized MOJO FLOAT SUNGLASSES with cobalt-colored lenses, durable construction and wraparound design, $100, at Hobie Surf Shop; a strap or cord to connect to the earpieces and wear behind the neck is also advised to keep the sunglasses from falling into the water. (949-497-3304; hobiesurfshop.com) | Photo by Ashley Littlefield
SUNSCREEN, by Keeki Pure & Simple
Protect your skin from harmful UV rays while out on the water with this SPF 45 broad-spectrum SUNSCREEN, by Keeki Pure & Simple, a non-nano, zinc oxide formula that’s water resistant for 40 minutes—not to mention paraben-, phthalate- and gluten-free and never tested on animals, $26.50, at Roots The Beauty Underground. (949-424-4266; rootsbeauty.com)
Sportkini’s CROSSBACK top CROSS & RING top VOLLEYBUM bottoms_credit P03 Agency
Choose a swimsuit that stays in place and allows you to move through yoga poses in comfort, like Laguna-based Sportkini’s CROSSBACK top (shown at left), from $102, CROSS & RING top (shown at right), $102, and two-tone VOLLEYBUM bottoms (on both models), $102, available on the company’s website. (239-603-9429; sportkini.com) | Photo by P03 Agency
FLOOD AERO
Erin O’Malley, owner of Sunset Stand Up Paddle, recommends the Bote brand used in her classes; a good option is the 11-foot-long, inflatable FLOOD AERO board, which comes with a travel bag, hand pump, adjustable paddle and more, $849, available through Sunset Stand Up Paddle. (949-391-2522; sunsetstanduppaddle.com)
BEACH TOWEL Business & Pleasure Co.
After your SUP yoga session, dry off with—or wrap up in—this plush cotton, resort-like BEACH TOWEL in Vintage Blue Check, $79, at Business & Pleasure Co. (949-324-2939; businessandpleasureco.com)
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