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Scrolling through my Facebook feed in the past few months, I noticed a few events available in Southwest Florida that would be barely feasible in my native Ohio: water workout classes.

I’m not talking about hopping into the pool at the YMCA for some lap swimming. I’m talking about using the natural waterways of the region to connect with nature and using it to push your body to be its healthiest self.

That’s how I found myself embarking with photojournalist Alex Driehaus on a sunny August morning to the Naples pier area for a stand-up paddle board water fitness class with instructor Simon Tracy through Naples Kayak Co.

Stand-up paddle board

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I want to preface whatever I say next with this: I am not the most marvelously in-shape person.

I do yoga from time to time. I play volleyball weekly. But I am not at peak physical condition.

So, like any other moderately logical person, any excessive physical activity sends my mind straight to how I am about to die. Especially in the water, and especially when I’m doing something I’ve never done before.

I know, thinking critically, that I can swim, that I was surrounded by people who could help me and that the water was 4 feet deep, give or take.  

But pushing off from the shore and getting started on my knees, I felt like I had made a huge, terrible mistake.

I panicked.

Oh no, I thought to myself. Oh no, oh no, oh no oh nooo.

“Oh, dear,” I said out loud. “Oh, God.”

I tried standing up. I really did. I got my feet under me for just a moment and pushed myself away from the flat of the board. My legs wobbled, the board pitched under my weight.

I saw a wave coming. I went right back down.

“Not today,” I said. “Not today.”

Other options

Beyond the classes Tracy teaches — which also include a Saturday morning yoga class — other businesses offer classes on the water.

Aquatribe LLC, for example, offers a different type of fitness class on the water. Owner Anna Aaron said she’s been around water her whole life and wants other people to get the same sense of healing and inspiration she gets from it, too.

The class she leads from time to time uses what are comparable to large, inflatable yoga mats. The boards are anchored just offshore, deep enough that participants who inevitably fall in aren’t getting hurt. Two people can fit on each board.

Aaron said she heard about the new exercise style through an Aquatic Exercise Association conference in March, which she said she used to earn her certification.

The workout starts just getting ready, Aaron said.

“Your whole core is engaged just to stand up on the board,” she said.

She also cautions against any expectations, as she said those will set participants up for failure.

“If people can get out of their mind and just be on the board, they will take to it like a fish in the water,” Aaron said.

While there is an inherent emphasis on balance work, her classes include stretching, cardio, strength training and toning. 

“I think the mats are a great challenge for people who love the water, but they want to kick it up a notch. That’s what they’ll do in my class,” she said.

(Alex and I tried to go to this class in Bonita Springs, but a nasty storm shooed us away.)

Back to work

By the time the panic of what I was doing subsided, I and the rest of the class had made considerable progress down the shore. Paddle boarding on its own is quite a workout, but Tracy had something else in mind to add to the mix.

Core-focused yoga.

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Quite frankly, as weak as I am in my core, I’m grateful we stuck to core work. It kept my center of gravity low to the board and helped me worry less about dumping myself over the edge.

(Some other folks fell in, though. Ha-ha!)

If we had done something like Sun Salutations, I may have evaporated in the heat or drowned.

It’s a little bit dizzying, trying to get into downward dog on the ocean. The waves are rocking your board and your head is upside down. The nice thing about yoga is that you can take a resting position any time because it’s about how you feel, not cramming yourself into the position.

When we finished our practice, we took our boards to the shore for a bit so Tracy could demonstrate inversions for any anybody who was interested.

I for one, wasn’t. My stomach was churning, and I didn’t want to give the contents an easy exit.

We got back onto our paddle boards and started making our way back to where we started shortly after. It was time. Now or never.

One foot planted. Then the other.

I was standing! I was doing it!

I started paddling like almost everyone else was, in the distance in front of me.

I turned to Alex.

“Look Alex, I’m doing it! Take a picture!”

She did. And then I fell off.

Twice.

Final Thoughts

The thing about water workouts is that they’re hard. The water is fighting you, your body is fighting you, the sun is fighting you.

In two hours, my Apple Watch tells me I burned 1,531 calories.

If you learn to go with the flow (forgive the cliché) and embrace the novelty of it, all that hard work ends up being a whole lot of fun.

But you will fall off. And that’s OK.

Andrew Atkins is a Features Reporter with the Naples Daily News. Contact him via email at andrew.atkins@naplesnews.com or on Twitter at @andrewjatkins

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What: Water fitness classes with Simon Tracy

When: Thursday mornings; Yoga on Saturday mornings

Price: Fitness $20; Yoga $35.50

Details: Visit napleskayakcompany.com 

What: Water workouts with Aquatribe 

When: Scheduling varies

Price: Varies, contact for more info 

Details: Visit Aquatribe on Facebook.

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