When we think of surfers, we often associate them with a certain mellow, “just chill, brah” kind of lifestyle, but consider this: if surfing is such a lackadaisical activity, why are so many surfers in great shape? Because standing up on a surfboard is really, really hard, that’s why. Every moment spent balanced on a long, narrow, unsteady surface is a deceptively difficult feat of athleticism requiring balance, stability, flexibility and above all, core strength. That’s the premise behind FloorTime Studios Surfset classes.
FloorTime is based in Middletown, where they mostly specialize in dance-as-fitness classes in the evening. However, a few years back they began adding Surfset classes. Surfset is a form of “instability training,” in which strength, balance, cardio and even flexibility exercises are performed atop a mock surfboard precariously balanced on a row of stability balls. It’s a unique workout, to say the least, and one of its signature benefits is that the instability of the board forces your core to constantly be working in the background to restore balance. The result is a total body workout that can focus on balance, fat burning, or muscle building and toning, depending on the exercises.
For its Surfset classes, FloorTime decided to take the show on the road, offering sessions at five locations: its Middletown homebase, outdoors at URI, in Newport’s Battery Park, in the Fitness Center at Naval Station Newport and on the poolside patio at Narragansett’s Break Hotel. This was where I arrived for Surfset Balance, one of four different 45-minute Surfset classes offered. The yoga-inspired workout is one of the slowest and easiest to pick up for newcomers, focusing on flexibility, core strength (always) and body control. On a blustery morning we couldn’t have asked for a much more tranquil and relaxing location. (The other Surfset classes are Build, which focuses on strength training; Burn, more of a high-intensity cardio workout; and Blend, a high-intensity interval workout combining elements of the other three. There is also a 55-minute Surfset Boot Camp.)
I’m proud to say that I’ve reached a point in my fitness life where I feel confident to handle pretty much any workout, but Surfset struck me as a bit daunting because balance and coordination remain my two weak points. My first attempt to hop up on the board and stand on one leg didn’t do much to encourage me either. Despite my reservations, FloorTime co-founder Chris Barker assured me and the other newcomer that by the end of 45 minutes, we would be confidently perched on top of those boards.
The Balance class is yoga-inspired, but it’s not yoga. That meant a lot of stretching and holding positions, and even some basic yoga positions like child pose and downward dog, with an emphasis on proprioception, or the awareness of one’s body and its relative positioning as it moves through space. It also incorporated some surf-inspired exercises, such as simulating the motion of using one leg to paddle a surfboard through the water. This one exercise got so much of the body firing, flowing through plank and downward dog positions into a long, deep sweeping of the leg along the floor and back up to balance.
After a session of balance exercises, we moved on to a core workout. “Calling this the ‘core workout’ is a little bit of a joke to us,” Chris informed us, “because really everything you’re doing on the board is working your core.” Regardless, the change to intentionally focusing on the core brought with it new challenges, like executing bridge pose on a wildly unbalanced surface. Indeed, you could feel the core constantly working and correcting; even though the relatively slow pace meant we weren’t working up much of a sweat, parts of the class were rather strenuous.
For the final couple of exercises, we ditched the yoga and went full-on surfer dude. Standing sideways on the board, we practiced spinning 180 degrees and landing with both feet planted in the other direction, then incorporated hopping from the ground onto the board from either side.
The pièce de résistance, however, was that most classic of surfer moves: quickly going from seated on the board to popping straight up on both feet. Chris explained to us that regular Surfsetters can use the evolution of their ability to execute this as a measure of progress – there’s no one right way to do it, but the more you work at it, the smoother and less reliant on the board you become.
As the class wound down we moved into some stretching and, to our pleasant surprise, the other first-timer and I both found ourselves planted on one leg without much of a fuss. Surfset Balance did achieve that perfect balance for a fitness class: it was fun and very relaxing, yet I still knew I was going to feel it the next day.
FloorTime Studios at The Break Hotel
1208 Ocean Road, Narragansett