Hopping on board the latest wellness trend, SUP Yoga, in Byron Bay

One of the best places to master your pigeon pose on a paddleboard is in this NSW wellbeing hub.

SUP yoga has taken off around the world.
  • Rachel Gray
  • February 2019

A bright orange hibiscus flower floats on the water past my eyeline in this upside-down world. It seems so serene in contrast to the pain searing up the back of my thigh. With a burst of energy, I swing my right leg forward and plonk it on the paddleboard in front of me. Gripping the plastic with my hands on either side of my foot, I take a deep breath and lift my torso with my arms outstretched, turning the world the right way up as I follow my instructor into the warrior two pose. I shake, the board wobbles but I miraculously stay on, in this, my first attempt at stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga on Byron Bay’s Belongil Creek in north-eastern NSW.

I’m at a retreat run by Charlotte Piho, the woman known as the “SUP yoga guru” and “the real Moana” after the Disney film character. Charlotte is credited as being one of the pioneers of this trending wellness activity – she even wrote the training manual for aspiring instructors in Australia. Ever since she swan dived her way into a sun salutation – on a paddleboard – in 2007, SUP yoga has shown no signs of slowing down.

Activate your core with yoga and paddleboarding combined
Activate your core with yoga and paddleboarding combined.

Charlotte’s Byron Bay retreats are held throughout the year at the Belongil River House – a double-storey beachfront homestay with a backyard that runs into the three-kilometre Belongil Creek – located a 35-minute drive from the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport.

On our first day, we yawn into dawn with a bleary-eyed 5am start. There are eight of us, a mix of experienced paddleboarders and beginners like me. The last floatation device I stood on was a ship so I must admit I am slightly nervous about balancing this 11-kilogram inflatable paddleboard from Red Paddle Co with only my two feet and a long-handled paddle. We push the boards into the murky water (it is stained a rusty brown by the tannin from the tea tree leaves lining the banks), then glide out sitting cross-legged on the board.

I make a wobbly attempt to kneel and after a few tries find the confidence to stand up. The board makes ripples across the water and, distracted by the thought of what lurks beneath, I fall only to discover it’s ankle-deep. The shallow creek bed is pock-marked with tiny crab holes, indicating its inhabitants are a lot less scary than I’d thought. I quickly jump back onboard and follow Charlotte’s instructions as she gracefully moves through a series of yoga poses.

My downward dogs are more like “gonna falls” (repeated 10 times over) but I manage to stay afloat for the whole hour-long session, before we lazily paddleboard our way back to the house only minutes away.

Byron Bay's natural landscape is perfect for improving your wellbeing
Byron Bay's natural landscape is perfect for improving your wellbeing.

The next four mornings kick off in pretty much the same way, followed by healthy breakfasts of eggs, fruit and coconut yoghurt. Our home-cooked lunches and dinners, served on large palm leaves, are equally healthy and always delicious, with fish, lentils, quinoa and kale making regular appearances. This provides ample fuel to power through the other activities included in the retreat – from splashing in the Byron Bay surf to browsing local markets and trekking through the bushland to Killen Falls, where the waterfall drops 10 metres into a swimming lagoon framed by ancient rocks and rainforest.

Another highlight was watching the sunset at Cape Byron, Australia’s most easterly point, where the wind whips low melodic tunes through the historic, still-functioning lighthouse.

The lighthouse sits atop the Cape Byron headland
The historic lighthouse sits atop the Cape Byron headland.

Sufficiently SUP-skilled, we went paddleboarding in the Brunswick River and had the opportunity to flex our new-found skills solo, during pockets of downtime.

On our last day out on the water, I felt confident enough to paddle out past breaking waves, where we spotted a lone turtle before our group was caught up in a traffic jam with an army of passing kayakers on the vast open ocean. It was the perfect way to end a long weekend that left me relaxed, recharged and ready to take on the real traffic jams and other stresses of the big city... at least until the next time I take out a board.

The details

Retreats in Byron Bay, NSW, start from AUD $780 per person. Charlotte also runs retreats on the NSW South Coast, the Cook Islands and Tahiti. For more information, visit Workout On Water.

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