By Emily Weitz
There’s a serenity to the scene: a lanky figure upright on the water, paddling through the bay with long, smooth strokes. That serenity can be found elsewhere, too, like when lean limbs float up into a handstand, balancing strong on a vacant beach.
Stand up paddling and yoga have a lot in common, including the clarity of mind and the full-body workout they both provide. And two East End women, Gina Bradley and Jessica Bellofatto, have found the common ground between the two and created a unique experience. They call it ‘Sup Dog, and it’s a combination of yoga and Stand Up Paddling that gets practitioners looking at the world in a whole new way.
In these fusion classes, small groups set out on the SUP boards, paddling across a sheltered part of the bay, like Hand’s Creek Harbor or Maidstone Harbor. The location changes depending on conditions. After warming up with a gentle paddle, the yoga class begins. This is no joke of a class, either. The yoga portion of the session lasts between 45 minutes and an hour, and includes full vinyasa sequences. Bellofatto even gets students up into advanced yoga postures like headstand and full wheel if they’re ready for it, though experience isn’t necessary.
Yoga and stand-up paddling go hand in hand because they both “take you right into the moment,” says Bradley. Bellofatto adds “They both require concentration, breath, relaxation, a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, and the ability to surrender to something much bigger than yourself.”
In some ways, SUP can teach the lessons of yoga in a more pointed manner, because the ocean can be unforgiving and real.
“Paddling in the ocean,” says Bellofatto, “you are at the mercy of that. On the one hand, you need to be brave… On the other, there is an extreme sense of humility… and huge surrender.”
The yoga practice requires that same balance of strength and softness, but when you’re out in the elements, maintaining that balance is all the more urgent.
Bradley started Paddle Diva in 2007 because of the profound benefits SUP has for everyone, especially women. The lightness of the boards means one pair of arms is enough to haul them around. The ease with which they take to the water means even the busiest of working mothers could steal to the open seas for 45 minutes of clarity.
“My whole mission is to make this really accessible to women,” says Bradley. “No matter their size, age, or ability.”
Bellofatto, founder and director of KamaDeva Yoga in East Hampton, is a longtime yoga teacher who discovered SUP kind of by accident while staying at a friend’s home.
“No one showed me what to do,” she recalls. “I just jumped on, and started paddling. I was completely in love with being on the water from that vantage point.”
She immediately started experimenting with yoga postures on the board.
“It just felt like such a natural, obvious thing to do,” she says. “I would paddle for a while, and then get tired and just want to float. So I would lay in savasana on the board and actually it was from savasana that I started moving into other asanas.”
Bradley and Bellofatto’s relationship began because “Jessica had faith in me when I was just beginning,” says Bradley. “She was confident in what I was doing, and from there we formed a friendship and a business relationship.”
Bellofatto’s confidence in Bradley was in no small part due to her own love of stand up paddling, although their relationship has had many facets.
“Meeting Gina was like meeting my match,” says Bellofatto, “in terms of her athletic ability, her laughter, and her infectious enthusiasm for movement and sports. Whether she was teaching me how to mountain bike (in the dark), or we were trail running, or paddling, we always had such a blast together, and our friendship grew from there.”
Now, along with leading ‘Sup Dog classes twice a week, Paddle Diva and KamaDeva team up to lead three yoga/SUP retreats per year to Rincon, Puerto Rico.
“Teaching retreats is easily one of my favorite things about being a yoga teacher,” says Bellofatto. “Retreats can be so healing and empowering for women on so many levels. I feel extremely grateful to have met Gina and begun cultivating this aspect of our business together.”
Bradley and Bellofatto find that, just as their chosen practices are complementary, so are they as individuals.
“We laugh so hard,” says Bradley. “We bring joy and laughter and positivity to anything we do. That is the guiding light in our relationship.”