yoga paddleboard
Image: Andrew Drake

Don’t Fall In Striking a modified reverse warrior pose in Salmon Bay.

ONE GUY BALANCED atop an oversize surfboard is nothing exciting, but a row of seven on stand-up paddleboards is enough to get the attention of Sunday-afternoon brunchers at Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard. They lean over the railing to snap photos of our unlikely posse of urban surfers as we row like gondoliers through rotted wooden pilings.

Ten minutes later we attach the nose of our boards by carabiner to a line strung between buoys, all pioneers in the new sport of water-top yoga. “Should we try a sun salutation?” asks our instructor, Hasna Atry. Without our paddles for balance, our arms flail as we try to stay upright.

“Yeah we should,” barks one of my fellow students, with more enthusiasm than I can muster. “Let’s do it.” Wobbly in the chop of Salmon Bay, I carefully descend into a downward dog pose as the slick head of a curious harbor seal pops up nearby.

Each year Seattle’s waters become busier with the sport of paddleboarding, which migrated, like surfing itself, from Hawaii to California and eventually to the Pacific Northwest. At least a dozen outfitters now rent stand-up paddleboards, known as SUPs, to those looking for new ways to explore Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Puget Sound. Longer and wider than most regular surfboards, SUPs are propelled not by waves but by the surfer wielding a six- to seven-foot-long single-bladed paddle.

I discovered stand-up paddling after moving to Ballard in 2008, shocked to find a lively surf culture in Rain City. Since then I’ve neglected my poor sea kayak, lured instead on sunny days onto an SUP to surf across Green Lake, around Discovery Park, or beneath the seaplanes banking above Gas Works. All that paddling and balancing makes for a vigorous workout that offers a walking-on-water view of sea lions and salmon schools. And now, via the folks at the Surf Ballard shop, comes the next evolution of stand-up paddleboarding, a mashup of surfing and yoga.

It’s hard to think about much else when you’re trying to not fall into frigid waters.

They call it WASUP Yoga, as in Washington Stand-Up Paddleboarding Yoga. Classes are already popular in Hawaii, California, and Florida, but the Surf Ballard crew believes theirs is the first paddleboarding yoga class in Washington. Its origins date to last summer, when Atry walked into Surf Ballard to find a swimsuit and befriended the shop’s co-owner Andrew Drake. He’s an old-soul surfer from San Francisco who has become a convert to the novice-friendly SUPs; she’s a tanned lifeguard and triathlete, more sporty than hippie. Together they developed the floating yoga routine they unveiled in May. Daily classes in the Shilshole Bay area are designed to be accessible to participants of all levels, including those who’ve never been on a paddleboard or twisted into a triangle pose. That was reassuring to a lapsed yogi like myself. 

On an unexpectedly blue-sky day, Atry led us through a series of poses as a flotilla of boats chugged to and from the Ballard Locks, kicking up small waves that undermined our efforts at chair, crescent, mermaid, and warrior poses. In a soothing voice Atry encouraged us to make a connection to the sky above, the water below. “Notice what it’s like to move with the water,” she said. “Using the ears, listen to the farthest-away sound…”

The volume of the city rose and fell, lawn mowers and weed whackers competing with birds and dogs. Occasionally the thrum of boat engines and distant cars subsided and the slap and shush of the water took over. Toward the end of our hour-long workout, as we lay on our backs in corpse pose, a train rumbled past along the shore-hugging tracks, its rhythms lulling me toward sleep. Afterward, I learned that my classmates were as surprised as I was at how much yoga we’d squeezed onto the small space of a precarious board. Only one of us took a dunk in Salmon Bay, but she easily clambered back onto her board.

Brian Charlton, a yoga instructor who had never been on an SUP, found himself thinking about the board and his balance, how the workout was a refreshing challenge after years of land-based yoga. When Atry started experimenting with yoga on a board last summer, the expanse of Puget Sound broadened her perspective of the exercise and gave her a healthy dose of humility. “The water is way bigger than you are,” she said.

It’s hard to think about much else when you’re trying to not fall into frigid waters. You can’t control the environment like in a yoga studio, and you can’t plant a hand beneath yourself when your half-moon pose sends you ass over teakettle. You’re forced to be in the moment, to focus on your breath, the board, the water. As Atry put it, “You have to really join with the properties of the water to balance and stay on the board.”

WASUP Yoga
$23 per class, including gear rental (multiclass 
passes available). 6300 Seaview Ave NW, Ballard, 206-387-9054; wasupyoga.com