“Beep beep, beep beep” my phone sang at 6.20am. “Rise and shine, it’s SUP Yoga time!”
It’s been a while since I woke up this early to don a wet suit. I gathered Dave was thinking the same as he loosely acknowledged the sudden awakening and grunt-rolled into his duvet den, muttering,
Just another 5 minutes.
I was keen to get up.
We were off to Pembrokeshire Wake Park to try out Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga with Birdsol. If you’re not yet familiar, this is as literal as it sounds; an outdoor exercise class integrating the practice of yoga, on a paddleboard. A board much wider and more buoyant than a regular surfboard.
Prior to this, Dave and I had paddleboarded twice; once a few years back on a ‘choppier than we realised’ sea off Newgale beach and again this year, on Zell am See lake (at least fifty percent of which was spent attempting to remount after hilarious falls).
Having practiced yoga as an amateur in several different forms, I was pretty keen to integrate the two under the expert tuition of Leanne Bird.
After a 45 minute wait outside the padlocked gates of Pembrokeshire Wake Park, we excitedly followed Leanne’s van into the park to get ourselves ready for the session (slight mishap there…something to do with me telling Dave we needed to be there for 7.30am when in fact it started at 9am…oops!).
Leanne, master of many talents and the go-to person for support on fitness and wellbeing, runs two businesses; BirdSol and Surfing Bird in west Wales.
She hosts paddleboarding adventure/fitness/yoga sessions, wellbeing retreats, personal training sessions, surfing lessons and professional sports massage.
She’s is a strong minded and passionate business lady with lots in the pipeline to help people play smart and live well – hence the connection with Life Seeker.
It was actually a pretty gloomy day with rain and wind greeting us horizontally. This didn’t phase Leanne, who happily changed outside the back of her van into the funkiest patterned wetsuit I’ve seen.
If you’re going to be a SUP Yoga instructor, this is definitely the way to do it.
It was great to see the Wake Park in the flesh. I’d been following their progress on Instagram and was excited to see the final product.
It didn’t disappoint and it was evident this project has been a labour of love, alongside hard graft and ‘planning perseverance’, the details of which Steph (Park Co-Owner) filled us in on during breakfast.
I was interested too to hear that Steph submitted the business plan for this project as part of her second year at university. Now there’s an example of using your degree to it’s full potential.
We were in a unique location; the lake in it’s natural environment, against a backdrop of the park’s mechanical structures, and some of the highest rides at Oakwood theme park.
A surreal sight for Pembrokeshire, the contrast I felt created a War of the Worlds kind of feel.
The Clubhouse lining the waters edge has been built by hand, providing a cosy and contemporary booking office/shop/chill out/eatery area.
The Harris family have a great eye for interior design.
Every way you turn, there’s something interestingly creative to focus on. Beautifully upcycled furniture and accessories complemented by country style jugs, signage and flora.
I clocked some chunky knitted beanies from a local supplier, quality wakeboard clothing and kit, with awesome upcycled tables and chairs handcrafted by This Was A Pallet.
After meeting fellow SUP Yogis, Julia and Rebecca in the changing room (with the coolest toilets ever), we joined Leanne at the head of the lake. She took us through the basics of handling the board, use of the leash, dismounting and mounting, launching into the water etc.
The rain was bouncing off the boards, yet we were neoprene clad. We were invincible.
The boards were pretty light and easy to manage. One by one, we entered the lake from the pontoon and paddled down to the far end. Concentration was needed here, getting to grips with moving around the board to gain centre of gravity and rising from knees to feet.
Very shortly after, calmness kicked in, in response to being on the water.
Gliding effortlessly and almost silently, feeling the breeze on my face and knowing I was warm and cosy despite raindrops dancing off me and around the edge of the board.
We clipped side by side onto a buoy supported line and patiently waited for Leanne’s instruction.
If you’ve practised yoga before, you’ll be aware there are many forms.
Leanne explained that no experience was necessary and took us through us some of the basic poses; sukhasana (sitting cross legged), the cat, upward and downward dog, child’s pose, 3 legged dog, sun salutation (combining several postures into a continuous movement).
Having held these postures before confidently on still ground, it was definitely a challenge to perform to the same level on a paddleboard. We now had an unstable base to consider, which added a whole new dimension to the practise.
I felt more tension in my body initially as I battled to find my centre. Each posture seemed to require more strength than on still ground, as I adjusted my arms, legs, head and core to compensate for sporadic movement.
I later relaxed into the motion of the water and enjoyed the process of being present, open to the elements.
What a way to welcome a new day.
All was going well, until we stepped up from a kneeling to a standing forward lunge. I battled to keep control but then *splash*, my lunge plunged into the lake. Of course, giggles followed immediately, more so from Dave (!) and I remounted the board (surprisingly easily) to catch up where I left off.
As we ventured into more complex moves, it was when I attempted a side twist from another lunge and opened up my arm to look behind me, that *splash* number two came.
I shouldn’t make excuses but perhaps it was the eye contact with the grass munching cow that stole my focus?
I forgot to mention the cattle!
Ok, maybe I just have poor balance.
Leanne was particularly professional during both of these mishaps and continued her session with the three die-hards, who seemed to be posing like pros. She did struggle slightly though when my second remount shot my board sideways into Rebecca, narrowly missing a domino effect for the rest of the class.
As I slid back on, any strength I had left disappeared as I literally ‘lost it’ with uncontrollable laughter.
I had a vision of the whole class in the water because of my ‘kiftness’. The laughter quickly infected Dave and finally them all…as he and I attempted to hold yet drop postures in a giggling mess.
To wrap up the session, Leanne guided us through a relaxation process, for which we lay on our backs with hands dipped in the water. We were so still that I could barely feel the water below and my mind drifted into the ‘here and now’ of what we were experiencing.
With eyes closed, we acknowledged our surroundings, the sounds, the smells, our connection with the water. A wonderful experience.
Now I was understanding and feeling the full benefit of SUP Yoga
Hands and toes wiggling brought us back into to some final stretching and breathing and a final ‘namaste’ to Leanne for guiding us through.
Thank you Leanne” we chirped in unison.
After an obligatory playtime to get back to base and into dry clothes, we were greeted by the aroma of freshly ground coffee and a beautifully presented breakfast at the Clubhouse from Steph.
Warm croissants lay on a communal table, accompanied by jam and triangular shaped butter. Freshly blended smoothies in chunky glass tankards, gathered like milk bottles with straws, in a rustic wooden carrier adorned with screen printed fabrics.
I ‘awwed’ at the ribbon tied blankets on our chair, should we feel the need to cwtch up whilst we grazed.
It was bliss as we enjoyed good food, drank real coffee and made new friends. What a wonderful addition to our SUP Yoga experience.
Couldn’t have asked for more. Thanks guys.
If you’re curious about trying SUP Yoga, perhaps reading about our time there has helped provide the insight and inspiration for you to try it yourself. Zero experience is needed in either paddleboarding or yoga to join one of Leanne’s sessions. In fact, it’s a perfect opportunity to gain a taster of both.
Being a Life Seeker is about challenging your norm and trying something new. If that means stepping slightly outside your comfort zone, then I recommend you do.
You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.