The four young women were veterans of yoga on a mat, but none had done yoga movements standing, kneeling or laying on an eight-foot fiberglass paddleboard while on open water.
All had heard of a relatively new phenomenon called stand-up paddleboard yoga, or SUP yoga, and they wanted to try it.
So at 9 a.m. last Thursday, they gathered in the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum parking lot, 402 Pine Ave., to meet up with an energetic and enthusiastic 28-year-old Rachael Croll of Bradenton, a certified SUP yoga teacher.
Laura Richardson, from Knoxville, Tenn., arrived first.
She had discovered on the internet that Croll’s business, Rachael Lynn Yoga, works with Island Yoga Space, 9805 Gulf Dr., Anna Maria, to book SUP yoga classes suitable for beginners and advanced paddleboarders.
Richardson, a nurse and 10-year yoga devotee who never had done yoga forms this way, was vacationing on Anna Maria Island with her husband and kids.
But the family got left in the vacation house after Richardson saw Croll’s ad. “I get to do yoga and do it on the water? Perfect!” said Richardson.
Within minutes of arriving, she was joined in the parking lot by the others who also had made reservations. Stephanie Paxton, Christina Faust and Erica Benarroch, all from Manatee County and friends, also wanted to see what it would be like to combine water, nature and yoga.
While Croll signed everyone up — $45 per person for board, paddle, anchor rental, introduction, safety lesson, paddle trip to the yoga spot and guided yoga class — the women shared nervous banter.
“I think I will fall in,” said Faust, laughing. “I think one of us will fall in,” Paxton quickly added.
“I’m a little nervous because I think my balance might be off,” said Benarroch, who has practiced yoga for eight years, but never had done this. “ But I love yoga, so I think it will be really fun.”
Minutes later, after Croll’s intro to the concept, she attached leashes from the boards to the women’s ankles.
Each kneeled on her board and was pushed off by Croll into the canal near the museum. All easily launched.
Within minutes, they went from nervous kneeling and paddling, to slowly, but confidently, rising to their feet and paddling.
Ten minutes later, all looked like pros and reached a nook near the “humpback bridge” off the island’s Pine Avenue.
That’s where Croll had each drop their anchors. Then she navigated around them and gently coaxed them into their yoga forms on the boards.
Paddleboarding emerged as a sport around 2010 and blew up from that point, Croll said, with California laying claim to combining it with yoga.
“It’s not surfing, but it’s similar to kayaking and canoeing,” Croll said before class.
“The boards are very stable, wide and longer than a typical surfboard, and you stand with your feet shoulder width apart instead of staggering them like on a surfboard. You are paddling side to side just like a canoe or kayak.
“It’s not that difficult to balance, especially in calm water. You paddle like you are in a kayak, but you are just standing upright. The cool part is that because you are standing up, you can see dolphins and manatees. You have an aerial view. There is six inches between your bare feet and surface of the water. You are walking on water.”
The water was still Thursday and the paddleboards, made of epoxy and fiberglass wrapped around foam and weighing just 27 pounds each, seemed very steady.
For about 45 minutes, the women did forms on their boards. When class was done the women paddled back to their starting point and reported how surprised they were with how comfortable they were with the boards but that they made the yoga forms different.
“It was a great workout,” Richardson said. “You have to use different muscles to stabilize and balance while doing your yoga poses. It was fun, too.”
“I was surprised how easy it was to balance,” said Benarroch, who praised the workout and its high fun factor.
And no one had fallen in. “I would say that 85 percent of the time no one falls in,” Croll said with a grin.
Bradenton native living her dream
Croll has traveled the world only to return to the place she was born. She went to Miller Elementary School, King Middle and graduated from Manatee High in 2006, where she was a shooting guard on the Hurricane basketball team.
At age 11, she found a yoga VHS tape at home and did the moves along with the video. She had no idea then that yoga would become her life’s work.
She attended the University of Central Florida in Orlando and got a double degree, in finance and real estate.
After college, Croll found a way to see the world, working for The Yacht Week, a sailing company that booked parties for weeklong trips all over the globe. She worked for free, but got room and board and saw the world.
“I will always remember Greece,” she said. “The Greek families live their island lifestyle and are tight-knit, but they allow tourists into their world. No one is in a hurry. It’s a peaceful place. I think Greece was one of the seeds of my yoga mind.”
Short on money, Croll moved back to Orlando and got a finance job.
“I tried cubicle life,” she said with a laugh.
After eight months she thought her soul was slowly dying and quit the job.
Friends invited her to live in New York City, she went and started taking a Vinyasa yoga class in the East Village.
“After practicing yoga there I knew I wanted to teach it,” Croll said.
She came back to Bradenton and recently started her yoga business, the SUP part of which has really taken off.
Jessica Henry, of St. Petersburg, met Croll while Croll was teaching yoga class at Motorworks in downtown Bradenton.
“I quickly fell in love with her yoga classes,” Henry said. “She has a very relaxed style of teaching yoga. When you took her class, you felt she catered to you.”
Henry also took a SUP yoga class from Croll and says the feeling is hard to put in words.
“It’s an awesome experience,” Croll said. “You are outside. It’s very calming. Very peaceful. I felt more in touch with the yoga practice. I am not a spiritual person by nature but I will say when you get to experience yoga outside you get more out of it.”
SUP yoga with Rachael Croll
- What: A 90-minute session which includes an introduction to paddle boarding, a short paddle journey, and an hour of guided yoga on the boards.
- When: 9-10:30 a.m., every Thursday and 9:30-11 a.m. every Saturday and at sunset the first Wednesday of each month (times vary, 5:45-7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2) Croll’s business, Rachael Lynn Yoga, also does private classes.
- Where: Launch near The Anna Maria Historical Museum, 402 Pine Ave., Anna Maria.
- Cost: $45 per person (must be at least 12-years-old) or $20 with own board
- Information, reservations and private classes: Croll at 941-932-3671 or islandyogaspace.com or rachaellynnyoga.com