The Yoga Paddlers



By Gianna Volpe

For a yogi, bringing one’s breath, movement and inner consciousness in tune with all that surrounds is the ultimate high. Some say this transcendence makes the union between stand up paddleboarding (SUP) — an increasingly popular local sport — and one’s yoga practice a near perfect one.

“There is nothing that brings you closer to God,” said Paula DiDonato of The Giving Room, a yoga studio, health food shop and juice bar in Southold. “It’s transforming, it’s transformational and it’s yoga, without a doubt.”

Ms. DiDonato said The Giving Room’s SUP yoga practice has evolved in the three years they’ve offered it.

“We used to assume there were things you could not do on the board and now it’s like inventing things you never dreamed of doing,” she said. “For some reason [reclining hero pose is more] difficult on land, which might be because there is a slight give or softness on the board that allows for deeper extension. You get much more opening in the arms and the chest…and it’s not as sexy, but savasana on the water after a class is incredible with your fingertips in the water, the sounds of the birds and even fish jumping. At the end of the season last year in the Peconic, a whole school of bunker fish went flopping by. It was craziness.”

When The Giving Room began offering the classes, they enlisted the help of South Fork yogi Jessica Bellafatto, who has been practicing SUP yoga for six years.

“I was doing a lot of long distance ocean paddles with a friend and we started playing with postures on the board when we’d sit down to take a rest,” said Ms. Bellafatto. “At first I kind of thought I had discovered it and that I was a pioneer; but, it had just begun to pop up all over the country.”

Ms. Bellafatto, who owns KamaDeva Yoga in East Hampton, is lead SUP yoga instructor at PaddleDiva, which holds most classes in Three Mile Harbor, though private instruction can be situated just about anywhere. She has led classes all over the East End – from Sagg and Georgica Ponds in Sagaponack and East Hampton Village’s western border to the North Fork’s Hashamomuck – and last summer she did it all while pregnant.

“It’s amazing for the body, mentally, and … for the pregnancy itself … it relieves a lot of pregnancy symptoms like swelling of the feet, lower back pain and not being able to sleep at night,” Bellafatto said, adding she feels her increased athleticism in recent years positively affected the birth.

“I didn’t really become a lifestyle athlete until six years ago when I got into tri-athalons, paddleboarding, paddleboard racing – all kinds of athletic stuff – and I have to say that at 40, this was my easiest pregnancy, easiest delivery and easiest recovery.”

Ms. Bellafatto not only taught a full SUP yoga class schedule while pregnant with Jahya Coyote, her third bundle of joy, she also held a weekend teacher certification course for SUP yoga instructor hopefuls with PaddleDiva owner, Gina Bradley.
The two will teach another certification course on the weekend of May 31 through June 1, covering all aspects necessary for SUP yoga practice, including water safety, technique, marketing and logistical concerns.
Ms. Bradley said PaddleDiva has come a long way in six seasons.

“I wanted to make the sport accessible to women, but the trend has spread to the masses because I now have clients who are men, women and children,” she said of her growing company, which now has more than 50 boards in its fleet.

Ms. Bradley is currently developing her own brand of yoga paddleboard, which she estimated would be finished by the beginning of the summer season

“It will be similar to the yoga boards on the market that are selling out because it’s very, very popular; but I wanted to create my own brand of board with a shape, weight and a design that I like,” she said. “The entire board is your yoga mat and it’s a great board because…it won’t only be good for yoga because you can paddle it for distance and other reasons.”